The first medical robots emerged in the 1980s, they assisted in surgical operations and were known as ‘robotic arms’. In 2000, the da Vinci Surgical System was the first robotic device approved by the US Foods and Drugs Administration to perform surgical procedures. In the next 15 years, the system has conducted more than 20,000 surgeries. Over the years, researchers have introduced a number of innovative enhancements to medical robotics, designed to improve the quality of care, assist with various therapies and deliver direct patient care. These robots also served as a marketing tool to position hospitals as early adopters of cutting-edge technology.
Once this technology benefited adoption of artificial intelligence, computer enabled vision and data analytics, medical robots expanded into many other areas of healthcare than surgery. Quite a few diverse market estimates are provided, the assessment by the Duquesne University seems to present an average number among them, $2.8B in revenue of the global healthcare robotics market in 2021.
Public perception is one of the major drives behind adoption of robotics in healthcare. For quite a while, it was considered to be an obstacle. However, the research by PwC shows that more than half (54%) of people surveyed in Europe, the Middle East and Africa are willing to engage with AI and robotics for their healthcare needs, and close to half and up to 73% would even be prepared to undergo minor surgery performed by a robot.
Researchers observe numerous challenges in robotics adoption to healthcare. Some are listed below.
Lack of emotional interaction
It is most often cited as hurdle on the way to adopt robotics. We are emotional beings. Robots have proven that they are capable in fulfilling almost all tasks of a caregiver. However, they are unable to provide human interaction.
People who use robots to assist them in public will thus indirectly display their disabilities or diseases. Although some patients might not care, there will still be some who don’t want to be the center of attention, so they refuse to continue using the robots. The manufacturers are encouraged to use designs that will make medical robots socially acceptable.
Security and privacy
Data collection through surveillance cameras, sensors, and other means is part of the robotics adoption in healthcare. Hackers may manipulate data, such as video and images, as well as location, for a variety of cyber crimes.
Robots have the advantage of being able to perform repetitive tasks without becoming exhausted. The development of power sources for robots is still lagging since robots rely on the old ways of generating and storing power. Consequently, robots are inefficient in terms of energy consumption.
Developed cognitive functions are required to control robots with multiple degrees of freedom, such as wearable prostheses or wheelchair-mounted arms. The problem with such robots is that patients who need them suffer often multiple disease burdens. Hard-to-use robots are likely to be abandoned.
Problems with functional capabilities
Robotics has made incredible progress in recent years but has often failed to demonstrate its capabilities beyond highly restrictive environments. It is particularly problematic to design healthcare technology since most problems are open-ended, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Because people, tasks, and care settings differ, robots need to be able to learn and adapt on the fly.
When electronic health records (EHRs) were first used in hospitals, they were marketed as a way to save time for clinicians and patients. Despite their poor design, difficulty to use, and poor integration, EHR systems end up creating much more non-value-added work. The result of this was “unintended consequences,” such as rising costs and harm to patients. When robots are introduced in the healthcare setting, it is essential to take into account more than just the costs of purchasing, maintaining, and training them.
Benefits of Robotics in Healthcare
With robots in the medical field, it is possible to provide a high level of patient care, optimize workflows in clinical settings, and create a safe working environment for patients and healthcare workers.
High-Quality Patient Care
Patients with chronic diseases benefit from minimally invasive procedures, tailored monitoring, intelligent therapeutics, and social engagement thanks to medical robots. A robot-assisted approach can also allow nurses and other caregivers to offer patients more empathy and human interaction, which can promote long-term health.
Streamlined Clinical Workflows
Robotics that perform routine tasks autonomously reduce the physical demands on workers and ensure that processes are consistent. Staff shortages and challenges can be addressed by robots that can track inventory and place timely orders to ensure that supplies, equipment, and medications are available where they are needed. Using AMRs for cleaning and disinfection helps sanitize hospital rooms quickly and allow healthcare personnel to focus on patient-centric, value-driven work.
Safe Work Environment
Health care workers in hospitals face the risk of exposure to pathogens while transporting supplies and linens in AMRs. Health care facilities are already using cleaning and disinfection robots to reduce the spread of pathogens and prevent hospital acquired infections. In addition to AMR, social robots can assist with heavy lifting, such as moving beds and patients, reducing physical strain on healthcare workers.
Kinds of medical robots
In recent years, surgical-assistance robots have become more precise due to advances in motion control technology. With the use of AI and computer vision-based technologies, surgeons can perform complex operations at a new level of speed and accuracy. It is possible for some surgical robots to complete tasks autonomously, allowing surgeons to oversee procedures from a console
Modular robots can perform various functions, so they are a great addition to other systems.
Among those are robotic therapeutic exoskeletons, as well as prosthetic robotic arms and legs that are used in the healthcare sector, originally in military medicine, but now more and more expanding into other areas
The use of therapeutic robots can assist with multiple sclerosis and stroke rehabilitation.
As patients do prescribed exercises, robots with artificial intelligence and depth cameras can measure the degree of motion in different positions and track progress more accurately than humans. Such robots can also coach and encourage patients
Doctors and nurses are relieved of their daily responsibilities by service robots handling routine logistical tasks. Several of these robots are autonomous and can transmit reports when they complete tasks. In addition to setting up patient rooms and tracking supplies, they record purchase orders, restock cabinets of medical supplies, and transport linens to and from laundries. Healthcare workers can spend more time focusing on immediate patient needs when routine tasks are performed by service robots
Several healthcare organizations use autonomous mobile robots since they are able to assist with critical needs, such as disinfection, telepresence, and delivery of medications and medical supplies, creating safe environments and allowing staff to spend more time with patients. A controlled mobile robot that is managed remotely may accompany doctors on rounds, allowing remote specialists to offer consultations about patient diagnoses and care
Humans and social robots are in direct contact.
Long-term care environments can benefit from them by providing social interaction and monitoring, encouraging patients to adhere to treatment regimens, or supporting cognitive engagement.
Patients and visitors can also use them to find their way around the hospital. Overall, social robots reduce caregiver workloads and improve emotional well-being among patients
Trends and future
Though it s close to impossible to predict amidst the current speed and volume of adoptions, which deployment is successful in the long run, some trends indicate to possible outcomes.
TELE-NURSING ON THE RISE
One the current trends that may well develop into the future is further integration of robotics and telemedicine. The term that is often employed to describe it is tele-nursing, a concept where a human nurse operates a robot remotely to exercise care services. Robotic manipulation, teleconferencing, augmented reality, health sensors, and low-latency communication networks, all the components to allow this development are progressing. Mobile telepresence robots with video screens and touchscreen interfaces have been adopted in some European hospitals already, we are likely to see more of them.
To provide more effective care to both patients and healthcare workers, tele-nursing combines the benefits of telemedicine (utilizing the expertise of healthcare workers) and robotics (social distancing, compatibility with hazardous environments).
MORE HUMAN TOUCH
Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology developed a way to give robots the sense of touch using artificial skin. The ability of a robot to sense pressure is an important advancement in the ability of robots to deliver care to humans.
BETTER ROBOTS IN SURGERIES
Surgeries will be transformed by robotic technologies. To help surgeons during minimally invasive surgeries by providing them with multiple degrees of freedom and allowing them to perform humanely difficult movements. Robots are also well suited to perform repetitive tasks in hospitals such as disinfecting rooms, dispensing drugs, and assisting with patient care.
MORE EMOTIONAL ROBOTS
AI driven empathy has been something most did not think possible until recently, and quite a few still share the view that emotions are belong to the human domain, they perceive AI generated emotions as fake ones. However, in the world where loneliness and depressions are on the rise, there is a clear need for digital solutions to address these problems. A number of promising technologies are in development.