Since the 1980s, the medical sector has been exploring how continued developments in technology could benefit it. Already, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) have been leveraged into many applications reaching every corner of healthcare, including disease prevention, early detection and enhanced diagnosis, decision making, end-of-life care, research, and training.
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Robotics are helping doctors save lives, and this type of technology is being increasingly integrated into medical processes. The robotic revolution of the healthcare sector is already in progress, with research and development establishing new robotics applications in this field every year. Already, robotics has proved invaluable to helping healthcare systems mitigate the growing pressures of our aging and rapidly expanding population, occurring alongside shortages of medical staff.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed healthcare organizations to adopt robotic technologies further to protect their staff from face-to-face interactions that could have resulted in them contracting the virus and managing the impact of high infection rates amongst staff, reducing the availability of healthcare professionals.
Now, as the cost of robotics steadily drops and knowledge of this technology grows within the healthcare sector, its adoption is becoming much more commonplace. Here, we discuss how advances in automation will help further the growth of robotics in healthcare, describe how automation may be leveraged in this sector, and discuss the challenges to overcome before the full potential of robotics and automation in medicine and healthcare can be achieved.
Why is Automation Important For Healthcare?
Automation is becoming increasingly important to healthcare. Advances in technology are helping to improve clinical outcomes, speed up the drug discovery process, assist in surgery, mitigate the impact of staff shortages, and more. Below, we explore some of the most important applications of robotics and automation in healthcare.
On average, it takes around 12 years for a novel therapeutic to become available on the market. Additionally, statistics show that only one in 1,000 drugs that enter the stage of preclinical testing make it to in-human trials, and just a fraction of those that do (one in five), are approved. These figures demonstrate the lengthy and resource-intensive process involved in drug development, an area of healthcare vital to improving therapeutic outcomes for all diseases and patients.
Using AI, robotics, and automation, the drug discovery process can be dramatically streamlined. Automated systems and high-throughput robotic screening in specialized assays are already well established in this field.
Some of the most important examples of automation and robotics in drug development include traditional rule-based and model-based approaches, numerous software tools for de novo molecular design, and prototypical robotic systems (e.g. ADAM and EVE - used for automated target and hit finding).
New advances in technologies, including AI and ‘organ-on-a-chip' platforms, are helping to secure the widespread adoption of autonomous processes in drug discovery. Benefits of such adoption include a reduction in error rate and material consumption, shortened cycle times, enhanced feedback loops and compound optimization, and 'objectified' molecular design, which can target multiple biochemical and biological structures.
Speed is essential for diagnostics in considering patient outcomes, particularly for patients faced with life-threatening diseases. Manually testing samples requires trained staff to conduct time-consuming processes that are not immune to human error. With limitations in staff availability, diagnostic turnarounds times can suffer.
In recent years, scientists have developed various platforms that leverage robotics and automation to overcome the limitations of traditional testing methods. Automated systems have the benefit of being less reliant on human resources, more accurate, and faster.
The emergence of surgical-assistance robots has occurred alongside advances in motion control technologies. These robots help surgeons to execute complicated microprocedures without the need to make large incisions.
It is predicted that the development of AI robots is on track to establish systems where computer vision will be used to help surgeons navigate to specific bodily locations without the dangers involved in moving around nerves and other obstacles. Additionally, it is predicted that surgical robots may soon conduct some procedures autonomously, with surgeons overseeing the process rather than operating themselves.
Overall, the system aims to reduce human error and allow operations to take place that may have been unachievable with conventional methods.
Robotic Surgery Unlocks a New Era of Medicine
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Challenges Faced By Robotic Automation in Healthcare
While adopting robotic automation in healthcare is increasing, it still faces some significant hurdles to overcome before reaching its full potential. For example, there is a skills gap where current healthcare staff need to be trained to operate this emerging technology.
Training requires an investment of time and resources, which is currently lacking in many healthcare systems. Additionally, more research and development are needed before some applications can be deemed safe enough to be used as alternatives to traditional methods.
While robotic systems, are less error-prone than methods that rely on humans, they are not, theoretically, immune to error. Surgical robots, for example, will need to prove their safety before they can be deemed safe to autonomously conduct procedures.
The Future for Automation in Healthcare
Automation and robotics have already become well-established in healthcare. This new technology is helping to reduce the resource requirements associated with traditional methods as well as save lives. As research and development continue, more applications of automation and robotics will emerge. In the future, it is likely that this technology will become even more significant in the field of healthcare.
Continue reading: Robotic Healthcare: Integrating Robotics into Surgery.
References and Further Reading
Labiotech.eu. (2021) How Automation Can Augment Drug Discovery Research. [online] Available at: https://www.labiotech.eu/interview/arctoris-automation-drug-discovery/
Intel. (2021) Robotics in Healthcare: The Future of Medical Care – Intel. [online] Available at: https://www.intel.la/content/www/xl/es/healthcare-it/robotics-in-healthcare.html
Schneider, G. (2018) Automating drug discovery. Nat Rev Drug Discov 17, 97–113 Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/nrd.2017.232
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