Has the Time Come for Robots in the Operating Room?

For a long time, robotics has mainly been used in industrial operations, where they help with various tasks such as welding, grinding, cutting, drilling, polishing, painting, sanding, assembly and spraying among others. Robots are a tremendous asset as they can perform jobs that humans may deem too hard or dangerous.

Presently, robots have also found careers in the medical industry. Robots assist in high precision surgeries such as heart and brain surgery. In pharmaceuticals, robots perform quality control.

Scientists suggest that within three to five years digitization may have reached a point where robots assume an extensive range of tasks in medicine. Currently, countries like Japan and Germany are already heavily investing in robots and automated systems that will some day care for the aging generation. The robots which have been undergoing testing since 2012 in the leading hospitals are supposed to one day share a home with patients, helping them in and out of bed, fetching food from the kitchen and picking items from the floor among many other tasks. The Japanese nurse robot RIBA has so far got most publicity in the press and media.

When asked how they felt about having a robot in their homes, most people were up for the idea, especially if it meant that they would have to go to a healthcare facility less often during old age. Recent research in Germany showed that around 77% of the respondents were ready to see a robot in the operating room, especially if it would result in lower associated risk. A small portion, however, rejected the idea entirely claiming that it would be too weird. Nevertheless, consumers in the country are generally warming up to the thought of robots helping to prolong their health, independence and life.

A minimally invasive robotic surgery is a process where surgeons get the help of robots that can mimic hand movements by remotely controlling micro instruments which connect to the robotic arms. High 3D definition monitors track their movements giving surgeons an unobstructed and definite view of each step in the process. A survey among doctors also reveals that they embrace the technology as it reduces fatigue and gives them better precision. With the help of robotics, doctors can also perform surgeries when they are not in the hospital, which reduces expenses on traveling and other related costs.

It may, however, take some time to improve medical robotics to the required levels, as surgeons say they would like the robots to offer haptic sensing where they (surgeons) feel the body’s tissue remotely. Also, better image quality of the cameras is needed so that both surgeons and robots can perform their tasks more efficiently.