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The Impact of Robots in the Hospital


The healthcare industry is undergoing a transformation with the integration of artificial intelligence and robotics in healthcare. From assisting in surgeries to automating repetitive tasks, medical robots are making a significant impact on the way healthcare is delivered. 

As technological advancements continue to happen at an unprecedented pace, it is essential to explore how robotics will affect hospitals and clinical settings in the near and distant future. Since their humble beginnings in the 1980s, medical robotic systems have come a long way in supporting medical procedures and tasks. 

The global medical robotics market is projected to reach $12.7 billion by 2025. In this article, we’ll explore the profound influence of robotic systems in hospitals, highlighting their benefits and potential challenges.

How will Robotics Affect Hospitals?

The integration of robotic assistance into the healthcare industry is set to revolutionize the way hospitals operate, with profound implications for patient care, efficiency, and healthcare professionals. There are several types of healthcare robots currently being employed in hospitals.

Surgical Robots

Surgical robots can be used to assist in performing surgical procedures. Their specific roles within surgery are varied, ranging from instrument control to automated surgical table movement. One of the most prominent and well-established applications of robotics in healthcare is in minimally invasive surgeries. 

Surgical assistance robots, like the Da Vinci Surgical System, have already demonstrated their ability in surgical procedures by enhancing surgical precision, reducing invasiveness, and improving patient outcomes. 

In addition, studies have shown that surgical robots have resulted in far fewer complications following operations. With the help of a surgical robot, surgeons will benefit from these devices greatly. By delivering small, precise incisions, medical robots provide immense value, allowing surgeons to not worry about possible human errors such as fatigue or lack of range of motion. 

These complex robots help surgeons achieve new levels of speed and accuracy while they perform minimally invasive surgery with AI and computer vision‒capable technologies. They predominantly include robotic camera holders and robotic camera controllers in theatre but can also include robotic microscopes, and a robotic scope holder in neurosurgery and transcranial magnetic stimulation robots.

The ability to share a video feed from the operating room to other locations allows surgeons to benefit from consultations with other specialists in their field. As a result, patients have the best surgeons involved in their procedures.

The low-intensity collimated ultrasound (LICU) system falls under the category of interventional robot, primarily used for ablation procedures in conditions like atrial fibrillation. Interestingly, it also involves automated ultrasound imaging capabilities, blurring the line with the imaging assistance category. These versatile functions enable robots to find applications in various healthcare settings.

Another study presents four interventional robots designed to work with MRI, CT, fluoroscopy, and ultrasound imaging devices. The details of each system are given along with any phantom, human, or animal subjects.

Modular Robots

Modular robots are also referred to as rehabilitation and mobility robots. In healthcare, these include therapeutic exoskeleton robots and prosthetic robotic arms and legs. 

Others may be used for posture training through robotic tilt tables or for mobilization through robotic wheelchairs. The most common modular medical robot, Lokomat, is a gait orthosis robot that can be used for rehabilitation in disorders such as stroke.

A randomized controlled pilot study of robotic exoskeleton-assisted exercise rehabilitation (REAER) in multiple sclerosis. The robot evaluated in this study was compared with 4-weeks of conventional gait training as a standard-of-care control condition on functional mobility, walking endurance, cognitive processing speed, and brain connectivity. The comparison revealed that 4 weeks of REAER was associated with large improvements in functional mobility in the control group. 

These specific robot systems support the patient with their rehabilitation, with additional tasks like monitoring a patient’s form as they exercise, the degree of motion as well as tracking progress and accompanying the patient with their rehabilitation journey.

Service Robots

Service robots in healthcare relieve the daily burden on medical staff by handling routine logistical tasks. A service robot can function autonomously and can send a report when it completes its routine tasks. 

These tasks can range from complex tasks like setting up patient rooms, tracking supplies, filing purchase orders, and restocking the medical supply cabinets to basic cleaning and disinfection. There are 2 studies that evaluated the robotic systems Light Strike and Ultra Violet Disinfection Robot (UVD-Robot). Both systems use ultraviolet (UV) light for disinfection of rooms, with the UVD-R being able to move autonomously.

There are also places with pharmacy delivery robots in intensive care units. An example of this is the TUG Automated Delivery System, a robot that after being loaded by an operator was used to autonomously deliver drugs from the pharmacy department to the ICU. 

Social Robots

Social robots interact directly with humans. These socially assistive robots can be used in long-term care environments to provide social interaction and monitoring. In general, a social robot’s form of patient care helps reduce caregiver workloads and improve patients’ emotional well-being.

Autonomous Robots

Autonomous robots help administer remote patient care by physicians and doctors to their patients through remote control. A core feature of the telepresence robotic group is the ability to allow individuals to have a remote presence through means of the robot. They can be taught to self-navigate to their assigned patient rooms, facilitate consultation between the two parties, and perform cleaning and disinfection.

The Impact of Robots on Health

With every newly created or updated robotic system, robotics professionals and enthusiasts can see dozens of opportunities for future growth. Such systems can include remote presence robots for virtual consultations or transportation robots for automated delivery of equipment within hospitals. 

Minimally Invasive Surgery

Robots have been used in minimally invasive procedures including robotic hysterectomy, robotic prostatectomy, bariatric surgery, and other procedures primarily focused on soft tissues. Surgical robots make these procedures easy and accurate, with the goal of reducing infections and other complications. An example is the Corpath 200 system that has been used for procedures such as PCI, with robotic catheter guidance.

The iSR’obot™ Mona Lisa can assist with visualization and robotic needle guidance in prostate biopsy. One included publication studied this robot prospectively in a group of 86 men undergoing prostate biopsy with the researchers primarily evaluating detection of clinically significant prostate cancer. 

There are also imaging assistance robots that have been specifically used for their ability to assist in carrying out imaging in different areas of medicine. Robot assistance enables the controlled trajectory of the imaging system with high precision and accuracy.

Orthopedic Surgeries

Devices can be preprogrammed to perform common orthopedic surgeries, such as knee and hip replacements. AI modeling enabled robots to be trained in specific orthopedic surgeries, with precise directions for where to go and how to perform the procedures. There are active robotic technologies for total knee arthroplasty.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, if widespread robot adoption in our healthcare systems took place prior, well-established robotic systems that allow for remote surgery or telepresence ward rounds could mean that care can continue to be provided in a consistent manner during a pandemic. This provides a clear example of where telepresence robots may be used to safely conduct remote ward rounds and enhance patient care during a pandemic.

How AI Impacts Healthcare

In today’s environment, the healthcare industry has leaned heavily on technological advancements, particularly through the use of artificial intelligence and robotics in healthcare. Several publications evaluated robots in different aspects of healthcare and assessed their usefulness in the healthcare industry.

Healthcare robots are poised to enhance the quality, operational efficiency, accuracy, and safety of healthcare services through the introduction of new applications and features. The integration of artificial intelligence into robotics represents a significant step forward, promising swifter and safer operations. 

Additionally, the incorporation of data analytics, along with continuous improvements in hardware and software systems in healthcare facilities, will expand the range of applications for medical robots and will further increase the help provided to healthcare professionals.

Collaborative efforts and investments by robotic companies and healthcare facilities are expected to drive the growth of the healthcare robot market. Nonetheless, addressing the cost and ensuring affordability for the general population will remain critical challenges.

Beyond this, there is a range of humanoid robot technology used for various purposes, including personal care, facilitating socialization, and providing training. For instance, in the context of training emergency personnel to respond to traumatic situations, some medical robots are designed to mimic human victims, complete with realistic screams, simulated bleeding, and responsive behavior to treatment.

Friendly-looking robotic personal assistants, particularly championed by Japan, have made significant strides in their development of socially assistive robot technology. One standout example is “Paro,” a machine designed to interact with humans, resembling an endearing baby seal, and responding to human speech.

A remote-controlled robotic system was innovated to address the challenges and occupational risks associated with traditional percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). The PRECISE (Percutaneous Robotically Enhanced Coronary Intervention) Study affirmed the safety and feasibility of this robotic system. 

A study presented four cases of complex coronary interventions that exemplify the capabilities of complex robotic enhanced PCI in managing multi-lesion, multivessel coronary disease, saphenous venous graft disease, and ST-elevation myocardial infarction. The robot offers assistance in more complex tasks like augmented visibility, precise measurement, accurate stent placement, improved ergonomics, and heightened operator protection from radiation.

A study presented the first in human use of automated noncontact ultrasound imaging with robotic-guided ablation for the treatment of atrial fibrillation. 

What are the Benefits of Robots in Hospitals?

Medical robots have been discussed in this article plenty of times and several of the benefits they provide to improving the healthcare system are for both the patient and the healthcare professional. Robotics in healthcare provides a different kind of assistance to ones provided by human presence and touch. They are precise inventions, able to help their human workers achieve their jobs of providing care to their patients as effectively as possible.

Robotics in healthcare also comes in many forms aside from the humanoid, physical robot. Many of them are arms, legs, or tables to assist the patient in rehabilitation or the surgeons in the operating room. Other robotic systems provide robotic assessment through remote control by the doctor. Several medical robots are being used for cleaning and disinfection in hospitals.

Sota Takahashi

Sota Takahashi is a Japanese-born electrical engineer. At the age of 18, he moved to Seattle and completed his Electrical Engineering degree at the University of Washington, Seattle. Being a fan of all things tech, he channels his geeky side through this website, and with his wife Linda, shares knowledge about robot pets and how they can be lifelong and advantageous companions for both children and the elderly.

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