08:57:52 am on
Thursday 20 Sep 2018

Robots and Healthcare
Hilary Thompson

Remember the scene in the third installment of Star Wars, Revenge of the Sith, in which medical robots work frantically to save Anakin Skywalker after he was severely burned and lost his legs? That’s amazing. You may think that kind of technology won’t be available for decades, but we’re a lot closer than you think.


Medical treatment and bots.

Although current technology isn’t quite as advanced as in Star Wars, the use of robotics in medicine has increased quickly over the past thirty years. If you’ve been to a physician, lately, chances are you were in contact with a robot, a bot. More and more, medical offices incorporate chatbots as health assistants. This is because it has become so a relatively simple task to do. More complicated robotics is useful for patient care, as well.

Together, these devices can diagnose patient symptoms, deliver medication and even help physicians perform complicated surgery. That’s only the beginning. Here are five ways robotics help improve your health.

Even if you don’t see robots at a checkup doesn’t mean one isn’t lurking. Somewhere, behind the scenes, a bot is working to ensure you get the best healthcare possible. Robots relieve physicians and nurses of repetitive, mundane tasks, leaving them to handle the more serious tasks, themselves.

Take the TUG, for example. This robust, muscular robot can transport up to 453 kilograms or roughly one thousand pounds of medication, medical samples, food, linens or other sensitive materials. What’s the benefit for you? Your physician and his staff spend more time taking care of you instead of running to pick up or drop off charts and medical samples.

There are dozens of other bots available for the sole purpose of improving not only your physical health, but your healthcare experience, too. Pepper, a robotic receptionist greets you at the front desk and points you in the right direction. Veebot can draw a blood sample in under a minute with eighty-three per cent accuracy. Giraff is a virtual robot that assists those with medical needs in the home.

Here’s how bots improve surgery outcomes. Imagine a surgeon performing complicated surgeries with much less risk of making a mistake. Robotic surgeons can operate with greater precision and control than can traditional methods. Although each surgical procedure is unique, the process of robotic surgery usually involves the following. The surgeon sits at a console where he or she is able to view the surgical field. A small high-resolution camera and dime-sized surgical instruments make a few small incisions. The surgeon maneuvers the robotic arms attached to the instruments from the console.

Smaller incisions, less trauma to the body and increased precision are only a few benefits to robotic surgery. Another advantage is the reduced chance of infection. Research shows that one in twenty-five patients or five per cent will contract a hospital-acquired infection, an iatrogenic infection; one in nine of these patients or roughly eleven per cent will die from this infection. Hospitals that incorporated robotic surgery saw a seventy per cent drop in iatrogenic infections. The minimal contact a patient has with humans during their operation reduces the risk of disease and surgical complications.


Pharmacists and bots.

Robots work with pharmacists, too. The most important job for a pharmacist is to ensure patients get the right prescription, in the right dosage. The task is repetitive and mundane, making it perfect for robots. More physicians are trusting robots to fill orders, with human supervision. For over five years, the UCSF Medical Center has relied on an automated “robot pharmacy” to fill prescriptions and a fleet of bots to deliver. Dr Rita K Jew, director of the UCSF programme, which conducted the study, says the robots work with one hundred per cent accuracy.

How does a robotic pharmacy improve your health? Humans make mistakes. Robots make next to no mistakes. That means you get the right pills and the right amount every time you go to the pharmacy. What’s the biggest benefit? You avoid any further health complications from taking the wrong prescription or dosage. Plus, you dramatically reduce your wait time at the pharmacy.

Here’s how bots help streamline rehabilitation and therapy. Every year, fifteen million people suffer a stroke. Although roughly eighty-five per cent survive, only ten per cent recover completely and most of those are women. The rest suffer from mobility impairment or cognitive disabilities. The stroke recovery process involves hours of physical therapy to help restore muscle workings. Many of these exercises are repetitive, which is why more therapists are relying on the help of robotics.

Several robotic devices, such as prosthetic limbs, exoskeletons and walking assistants, are available to aid not only stroke patients as well as paraplegics and amputees. Clinical trials have shown that using robotic devices, during therapy, has been more successful than relying on conventional methods. Robotic therapy can help streamline your recovery, too; such devices can perform the same movement repeatedly with remarkable accuracy and precision, without fatigue.

Most important, here’s how bots help you maintain your health. Most medical questions don’t require a physician to answer. Picture a first-time mother with a three-week-old baby. She might bombard her pediatrician with questions, such as “What should the temperature of the bath be?” “What type of infant laundry detergent should I use?” “What baby food should I buy?” These questions are important, but don’t require a physician to answer.

This is where chatbots come in. More and more chatbots can help people maintain a healthy lifestyle. Bots, such as HealthTap and YourMD, find a solution to your health symptoms by asking a few questions. Endurance is a virtual companion for those with dementia or Alzheimer’s; Lark is a virtual personal health coach that pushes you to complete your fitness goals. Replika, WoeBot and Evie are bots that provide emotional support to help manage and maintain mental health.

Do you need to get into shape? Do you need someone to talk with? Chances are there’s a chatbot to help you.


The robotic future is now.

We might be a long way away from prosthetic limbs that rival those seen in Winter Soldier, but robotics is having a massive effect on the health industry. Pharmaceutical work is becoming less expensive and more efficient, surgeons are operating with more precision and people can walk again. Each of these would not be possible without the help of robotics. With new advancements made every day, it’s exciting to think about what the future will bring.

Hilary Thompson is an active freelance writer, on the environment and business. She is a mother of two. She runs on coffee and fumes.

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