Editorial Feature

Why Are Medical Robots Important For the Future of Healthcare?

One of the first known uses of a medical robot dates back to the 1980s, when the “PUMA 560”, which was not originally designed for medical use, was adapted by scientists at the University of British Columbia to assist in conducting brain biopsies.1

Why Are Medical Robots Important For the Future of Healthcare?

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Since then, the field of medical robots has produced a number of sophisticated designs that aim to help healthcare professionals conduct a wide range of tasks, from surgery to diagnostics and rehabilitation. These medical robots, often equipped with state-of-the-art sensors, actuators, and artificial intelligence algorithms, enhance the accuracy and efficiency of medical procedures.

This article will explore the benefits of medical robotics, highlighting the impact these technologies have had on the healthcare industry.

Enhancing Precision and Accuracy in Surgical Procedures

The integration of medical robots with advanced imaging technologies has revolutionized surgical procedures by providing surgeons with real-time, highly detailed visuals of the area being operated on.2 These robots are designed with superior mechanical stability and precise control mechanisms, significantly improving the guidance, stabilization, and movement control during surgeries. This advancement not only minimizes the risk of human error but also elevates the overall precision of surgical operations.

Moreover, the incorporation of haptic feedback systems in certain medical robots has been a groundbreaking development. These systems allow surgeons to 'feel' the characteristics of the tissues they are operating on, even though they are manipulating instruments remotely. This capability facilitates surgeries to be performed with an unprecedented level of sensitivity and precision, further enhancing the effectiveness and safety of medical procedures.

Improving Surgical Outcomes and Recovery Times

By enhancing the precision of surgical techniques and minimizing invasiveness, medical robots significantly improve surgical outcomes and accelerate recovery times.3 The precise control and ability to navigate through smaller incisions reduce trauma to surrounding tissues and lower the risk of complications, thereby shortening recovery periods.

Moreover, the advanced visualization capabilities provided by certain medical robots enable surgeons to conduct surgeries with heightened accuracy and efficiency. This not only contributes to better outcomes but also aids in the faster recovery of patients.

Expanding Access to Specialized Healthcare Services

Medical robots are revolutionizing access to specialized healthcare by enabling remote consultations and procedures. They support teleoperated systems, allowing surgeons to perform surgeries remotely.4 This breakthrough means that geographical barriers no longer prevent patients from accessing world-class experts, regardless of where they live.

In the past, geographical barriers meant that patients in remote or underserved areas often faced significant challenges in accessing specialist care. Now, thanks to medical robotics, these individuals can receive treatment from top specialists around the globe, overcoming the limitations set by traditional healthcare delivery methods.

This advancement significantly broadens healthcare access in remote and medically underserved communities. It ensures that patients can consult with and be treated by the most suitable experts for their specific medical needs, heralding a new era of global healthcare equity.

Mitigating Surgeon Fatigue and Improving Ergonomic Conditions

Recent research analyzing the sleep patterns and mental fatigue of surgical residents highlighted a concerning trend: they experience fatigue during nearly half (48 %) of their waking hours. The study also found that their fatigue levels were predicted to increase the risk of medical error by 22 %.5

Medical robots have emerged as a solution to combat surgeon fatigue and ergonomic challenges. By taking on physically demanding tasks—such as automating repetitive movements and stabilizing surgical instruments—these robots significantly reduce the physical strain on surgeons. This reduction in strain is crucial in minimizing the risk of fatigue-induced errors during surgeries.

The integration of medical robots into surgical practices not only alleviates surgeon fatigue but also enhances ergonomic conditions. Consequently, this leads to safer and more efficient surgical procedures, showcasing the potential of robotics in transforming modern healthcare.

Facilitating Remote and Teleoperated Surgery

Building on the capabilities of medical robots, remote and teleoperated surgeries are becoming increasingly feasible. Through the use of high-speed internet connections and cutting-edge technologies, surgeons can now remotely perform or guide surgeries in real-time.

In 2001, the world’s first transatlantic surgery took place, with surgeons based in New York carrying out an operation on a patient living in France.This pioneering operation marked a significant milestone in the field of telemedicine, demonstrating the potential for remote surgery to transcend geographical barriers.

Since then, the prevalence of remote surgeries has seen a substantial rise, reflecting advancements in technology and growing confidence in the ability to deliver high-quality surgical care from afar. This progress not only expands the reach of specialized surgical expertise but also paves the way for future innovations in global healthcare delivery.

Advancements in Robotic-Assisted Rehabilitation and Therapy

Major advancements in robotic-assisted rehabilitation and therapy have included the development of exoskeletons and wearables that facilitate the recovery of movement via targeted assistance feedback, robotic platforms equipped with virtual reality interfaces for immersive rehabilitation, and the integration of AI to develop adaptive and responsive therapies tailored to the individual patient.

Together, these technological advancements are revolutionizing the field of rehabilitation, offering new hope and improved treatment options for individuals seeking to recover mobility and functionality.

Future Outlook

The future of medical robots holds much promise for the development and improvement of healthcare systems across the globe. In the near future, as AI and machine learning technologies become increasingly integrated into medical robotics, we can expect to see notable enhancements in surgical accuracy, expanded telemedicine options, and superior patient outcomes.

Moreover, a shift toward the miniaturization and enhanced portability of medical robots is projected. This evolution aims to further democratize access to specialized healthcare services, making high-quality care more accessible to diverse populations worldwide.

The future outlook for medical robots will likely be characterized by continuous innovation and motivated by the overall goal of advanced healthcare and patient outcomes, ushering in a wave of healthcare that is more precise, accessible, and effective.

References and Further Reading

  1. Abdelaal, A.E., Mathur, P. and Salcudean, S.E. (2020) Robotics in vivo: A perspective on human–robot interaction in Surgical Robotics, Annual Review of Control, Robotics, and Autonomous Systems, 3(1), pp. 221–242. doi:10.1146/annurev-control-091219-013437.
  2. Wang, Y. et al. (2021) Current trends in three-dimensional visualization and real-time navigation as well as robot-assisted technologies in hepatobiliary surgery, World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery, 13(9), pp. 904–922. doi:10.4240/wjgs.v13.i9.904.
  3. Reddy, K. et al. (2023) Advancements in robotic surgery: A comprehensive overview of current utilizations and upcoming frontiers, Cureus [Preprint]. doi:10.7759/cureus.50415.
  4. Mohan, A. et al. (2021) Telesurgery and robotics: An improved and efficient era, Cureus [Preprint]. doi:10.7759/cureus.14124.
  5. McCormick, F. et al. (2012) Surgeon fatigue, Archives of Surgery, 147(5). doi:10.1001/archsurg.2012.84.
  6. Rose Eveleth. 2014. Doctors are controlling scalpel-wielding robots in real operations from afar, finds Rose Eveleth. Is this the future of surgery? [online]. The BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20140516-i-operate-on-people-400km-away

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Sarah Moore

Written by

Sarah Moore

After studying Psychology and then Neuroscience, Sarah quickly found her enjoyment for researching and writing research papers; turning to a passion to connect ideas with people through writing.

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