The Effects of Robotic Advancements on Healthcare
Home Diagnosis Self-Test Kits
Advancement of Medical Mobile Applications
Mobile Lab Attachments
Mobile Solutions Emerge Around the World
Concerns with Mobile Healthcare
Technology is constantly changing the way that we live; permeating every industry. In healthcare, advances in information technology and robotics have steadily gained acceptance. While the use of medical robotics is relatively new, it is a rapidly developing field.
In this article we will look at how technology has been integrated into the healthcare industry; from patients self-diagnosing via mobile apps, to robots assisting in surgeries. Furthermore, we will look at how technology advancements are impacting other industries around the world. In conclusion, we will take a look at what the future of robotics is likely to hold for the healthcare industry. Will robots someday replace your doctor? Let’s investigate.
The Internet and Healthcare Trends
One of the first and most apparent places where technology has replaced the need for doctors, is in the internet’s ability to provide patients with health-related answers. Internet users can open their home computer at any time of day and find an abundance of information relating to any medical condition that is currently known to man. Reference websites can provide individuals with valuable information about different health conditions. There are even sites where the user can provide information about the symptoms that they are experiencing, to get an analysis of the potential causes. All this in the place of what used to be a doctor’s visit.
As a result, people are turning to the internet for their healthcare needs at an increasing rate. From self-diagnosis and drug interaction facts, to dietary advice and tips for addressing certain health concerns; the vast amount of health information available can be useful when it is used responsibly.
The prevalence of the internet being used as a personal healthcare tool is reflected in polling from the Internet and American Life Project from the Pew Research Center. The results showed that 61% of Americans use the internet to access information about health, and that the majority of these individuals stated that they found the advice helpful. (Cassinos-Carr, 2015)
The Informed Healthcare Consumer Emerges
Each individual patient needing healthcare services, is also a consumer. When people go online to learn about health issues, they are taking steps toward becoming a more informed healthcare consumer. The positive effect of this increased access to information, is that it can empower consumers to play a more active role in their own healthcare decisions. However, there are some concerns regarding the quality of information that is being provided, and the ability of individuals to distinguish between quality online information and advice that may be unreliable. (J A Powell, 2003) Additionally, how far can patient self-education go? Can people really gather reliable enough information to diagnose their health condition without visiting the doctor?
Home Diagnosis Self-Test Kits
Consumers have access to a range of different self-test kits that claim to provide the user with the ability to diagnose a variety of different conditions. The home diagnosis industry offers tests that cover everything from sexually transmitted diseases, Alzheimer disease, and certain types of cancer. The kits can be sent to the individual in the mail, or tests that can be taken online.
The popularity of these tests is evident by the fact that home diagnosis is a multi-billion dollar industry, but many doctors have concerns. In some cases, the information in these tests has been found to be either inaccurate or inadequate. In addition to that, consumers can make mistakes in their handling of the test, or in their execution of the testing procedure. With the possibility of false or inaccurate results, a home diagnosis kit can be a good way to receive preliminary information, but most healthcare professionals would recommend backing the test up by consulting a doctor. (Hynes, 2013)
Many doctors believe that the new frontier in DIY medicine and home diagnosis is going to be using the Smartphone as a medical device. Mobile devices already play a significant role in the lives of many consumers; with apps that can assist with personal finance and shopping, but this potential can extend into many part of the user’s life. The emergence of medical apps, and peripheral devices that can attach to a Smartphone, are a relatively new development. As the field expands and new technologies become available, it will likely have a major impact on the cost of care and the relationship that doctors and patients share. (Topol, 2015)
Advancement of Medical Mobile Applications
As mentioned above, the use of common mobile technology is going to play a more significant role in the healthcare industry as time goes by. Businesses within the industry and software developers have already released a number of Smartphone applications that can be used for services like online consultation, diagnosis and monitoring. See the following developments for a glimpse into what has been developed.
Patients have access to apps that facilitate secure video conferencing with a physician, with the cost of consultation being roughly the same as the average co-pay. It is already estimated that about one in six doctor visits is being carried out through a virtual meeting, and the trend is expected to grow as doctors as patients accept this as a viable option. (Topol, 2015)
Mobile Lab Attachments
With an app, patients can consult with a doctor any time of the day, but they might still need to head to the lab for things like blood work and urinalysis. However, this is another aspect of the healthcare experience that is going to change in the future. One day in the not too distant future, patients will be able to use equipment that attaches to their mobile device for many of the tests that currently have to be performed in a medical lab. (Topol, 2015)
Along with consultations and lab work, mobile technology is also going to provide the ability to monitor every organ and system of the body. Currently under development are microscopic sensors that can be embedded in the individual’s blood stream to monitor for a range of different health concerns that can be detected through changes in the blood. It could be useful for the early detection of serious health concerns such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. (Topol, 2015)
Further, there is also the potential for Smartphone apps that provide diagnosis in a completely automated fashion. Some of these apps are in the development and testing stages, but there are a few that are already available. Examples of these apps include those that are designed to gauge the user’s mental state for any signs of mental illness, and those that can diagnose and provide recommendations for skin conditions based on a picture. (Topol, 2015)
Mobile Solutions Emerge Around the World
Many countries are finding mobile solutions to healthcare. In Ghana for one, healthcare providers are using mobile phones to provide important reminders and advice to pregnant women. Secondly, in 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada announced a grant to help develop new mobile tools to provide healthcare workers with a greater ability to perform mobile diagnostics. Thirdly, a telehealth service in Mexico also helps patients by allowing them to have their health concerns addressed over the phone or, if there is a need, they can arrange for a house call to receive the care that they need. (Economist, 2012)
All of these advances in mobile technology could go a long way toward streamlining the healthcare system and providing care that is more cost effective. With things like virtual doctor visits, in-home lab work and automated diagnosis apps, it puts more of the power in the hands of the patient and it leaves the in-office healthcare professionals with much less to do.
Concerns with Mobile Healthcare
The expansion of mobile tech holds great promise for advancement in medicine, but there are also some concerns and possible problems that will need to be addressed as the technology progresses. Accessing services and transmitting medical data, leaves open the possibility that private medical information could become compromised. Additionally, software and mobile medical devices need to be tested to ensure that they are effective and provide information that is accurate. These will have to be addressed alongside developments.
Telemedicine holds some of the greatest promise when it comes to expanding access to healthcare, reducing costs and meeting the challenges of the future. It is already delivered to many patients through the internet and with the use of mobile devices. Now, robots have also been employed to cover some in-home care needs. In the future, we can expect the trend toward telemedicine to continue to grow as in-home diagnostics, monitoring equipment and robotics advance into stages where they are more reliable, as a means to deliver care without the need for on-site healthcare professionals. (Martin, 2014)
Robotics in Healthcare
Robotics are already being used for a variety of patient care and surgical applications, and new healthcare robots are currently in development for a range of different needs that exist in both hospital and in-home settings. Read below to learn more:
The Health Buddy
A good example of how technology can be used to assist in the care of patients with chronic conditions, is the Health Buddy from the manufacturer Bosch. The machine asks the patient questions regarding their condition every day. The data is sent to a health coordinator, and if there are signs of trouble, the coordinator can call the patient or contact the necessary healthcare professional. (Economist, 2012)
Another company called InTouch Health develops and distributes remote presence robots that are used in the healthcare industry, with more than 700 hospitals already employing the use of some of their machines. One of their latest models, the RP-VITA (called VITA for short), is the first FDA approved telemedicine robot with an autonomous navigation system. This robot can be operated by a physician located anywhere in the world, through the use of a Wi-Fi connected iPad. With the VITA, patients can receive immediate care, even when there is no doctor on the scene. Then, doctors can evaluate a situation and provide advice and instruction to staff members that are on location. (Wang, 2013)
A good example of a remote presence robot that can be used in a care setting is the UBot-5. This is a general-purpose robot that can be adapted to work in a variety of different settings. The UBot-5 can be applied to assisting with the care of elderly patients, allowing doctors or other professionals to interact with the individual, and it can also be programmed to perform some basic tasks and care activities. (Unknown, Teleoperated Robots)
Robotics in Surgery
The use of robotics in surgery dates back to 1985, when the PUMA 560 surgical arm was used to perform a neurological biopsy. While the PUMA 560 was a revolutionary surgical system, it had its limitations and it required a great deal of assistance from human personnel and additional surgical tools. The systems that are in use today are much more advanced and they have a greater range of onboard tools, requiring less assistance from additional surgical staff. (Samadi)
Da Vinci Surgery System
In 2000, the FDA approved the first robotic surgery system that was designed for laparoscopic surgery. Known as the da Vinci Surgery System, it marked the first time that a complete system with a range of surgical tools and a camera was approved for this application. Whereas the previous systems relied on additional tools and surgical assistants to perform an operation, the da Vinci system has all of the tools onboard. In addition to this, the smaller arm size reduces the need to leverage the sides of the incision, thus reducing the chances of infection and scarring. Further, this system features improvements upon the joint design, providing the surgeon with a higher degree of accuracy and control. (Samadi)
Modern Day Surgical Robots
The newest robotic surgical systems represent significant advances in the field of robotic surgery, and the small size of the operating arms make them a great option for broad range of surgical procedures. Robotic surgery has already been applied to a number of surgical practices including cardiothoracic, gynecological, neurological and urological. (Samadi)
This system is an image-guided device called the NeuroArm, which is MRI compatible and works under a computer-assisted operating system. The surgeon can operate the system with a pair of specialized controllers, using the image capabilities of the machine to see the status of the operation while it is underway. (Unknown, Teleoperated Robots)
The robotic surgery systems are used for the many benefits that they have over the traditional methods. With the small operating arm, the surgeon can perform the small, complex movements that would have previously only been possible through open surgery. This means smaller incisions that expose the patient to less of a risk for infection, and it allows the surgeon to operate in way that is more comfortable. (Liou, 2013)
Categories of Robotic Surgery Systems
While robotic surgery systems may employ a significant degree of computer assistance, not all computer-assisted surgery uses robots. Computer-assisted surgery is simply any form of surgery that uses technologies such as real-time sensing or 3D imaging during part of the surgical process. (Robotic Surgery )
Robotic surgery systems can be broken up into three basic subcategories known as tele surgical systems, supervisory-controlled systems, and shared control systems.
- With a supervisory-controlled system, the robot performs the entire procedure based on a computer program and data provided to the system by the surgeon.
- A telesurgical system is one where the surgeon operates the machine remotely using cameras and sensory data from the robot.
- For a shared control system, the surgeon and the robot perform the procedure together. (Robotic Surgery)
Human vs Robot Surgeon: Which is Better?
Whether surgery is performed by a human or a robot, there are advantages and disadvantages. A live surgeon is going to be more dexterous within the human scale, but less dexterous outside the scale. Additionally, a human doctor is going to be more flexible and adaptable with the ability to exercise his or her own judgment should the need arise. However, where a human surgeon can become fatigued, a robot will not. In addition to that, a robotic system will have better geometric accuracy and can be sterilized to provide a cleaner surgical environment. (Robotic Surgery)
The Future of Robotic Surgery Systems
While the advances in robotic surgery have been impressive, newer systems that are under development look to take things even further. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley are currently working on making robots that could perform a range of low-level surgical tasks without the need for a human in direct control. These systems would be much like the surgical robots that are currently in use, but they would operate from a piece of software, rather than being controlled by a surgeon. (Markoff, 2014)
Effect of Robotics across Industries
Of course, robots are having an effect on industries other than healthcare. Robots can be seen performing a broad range of jobs that have had an impact on everything from manufacturing, to the service industry.
The use of robotics in manufacturing is nothing new, but the scale to which they are currently taking the roles once held by human workers, is astounding. In no place is this transition toward automation more apparent than it is in many of the factories in China. Changying Precision Technology, a phone manufacturer, has recently transitioned to a completely automated production line. With these changes, the factory now works with less than 10% of its previous staff, and there are plans to expand the project even further. The result has been a dramatic reduction in the number of defective products coming off the line, and a production rate that has more than tripled. (Akland, 2015)
In food service, robots can be used to perform many of the jobs that we currently rely on humans for. An Austin company is developing a robot that can brew a cup of coffee that is as good as any from a human barista. The robot grinds the coffee to order, and it uses many of the same tools and techniques of its human counterpart. (Wang, 2013)
For rehabilitation, companies are also developing robotics like a bionic suit that can be used to help paraplegics regain the ability to walk. This robot is essentially a load-bearing exoskeleton that uses sensors and software to support the weight and provide motion. (Wang, 2013)
Robots are also helping to make solar energy more efficient. An automated system from Qbotixs can be installed on a solar farm to optimize the use of the panels and collect data that can be used to improve performance. It is estimated that the system can help a solar installation to increase energy production by up to 40%. (Wang, 2013)
The Wave Glider from Liquid Robotics is another fairly impressive piece of machinery. This robot can be used to monitor environmental conditions in the sea. These machines are highly adaptable and groups of them can even work together as a swarm. In addition to that, they harness their propulsion from waves and this makes them very efficient. (Wang, 2013)
One industry that has received a lot of attention for its advances in robotics is the automotive sector. Just about every person has heard of driverless cars, and there are even a few vehicles currently on the road that feature some automated functions; like assisted parking. (John Greenough, 2015)
The current automated features on cars are simple functions that can make certain tasks easier or help the driver to avoid an accident, but it will not be long before the technology reaches a point where the car is going to be able to complete a full trip without the need for any driver control. The progression is likely to move in the direction of the car taking on more and more of the driver’s role, and then in the more distant future, it will eventually reach a point where a human driver is completely unnecessary. (Ross, 2014)
As you can see, there is hardly an industry untouched by robotics and automated technology advancements. Let’s look at the impacts of robotics on the economy at large.
Robotics and the Economy
Robots are already taking all sorts of jobs that used to require human labor as seen above. It can be seen in healthcare, agriculture, manufacturing, the service industry and much more. With robotic systems showing that they can perform many jobs better than a human can, and the obvious cost savings, the rise of robotic workers is a trend that is going to continue.
When it comes to robots taking over for humans, there is no industry that makes a better example than manufacturing. Investment in industrial robots continues to grow throughout that world, but automated systems only hold approximately 10% of the jobs that show a strong potential for the technology to take hold. If this trend holds the current pace, it is believed that this number could increase to about 23% by the year 2025. (AP, 2015)
Advantages of Using Robotics
The benefits to using robots instead of human workers are many. Robots can dramatically cut labor costs, they work with a higher degree of precision, and they can be easily reprogrammed and refitted to perform different jobs as the needs of the factory change. These advantages, among others, are the forces that drive the trend toward increased automation. (AP, 2015)
A few decades ago, only the largest companies could afford to purchase robots for use in their production facilities. However, the newer machines are far more affordable and adaptable than their predecessors. This has led to the adoption of robotics by small to mid-sized firms. Add this to the fact that as the robots become more affordable, they also become more technically capable and you have a situation where many businesses will not be able to compete unless they follow suit. (Sirkin, 2015)
Big Named Companies Plan to Increase Use of Robotics
A few examples of how some of the world’s biggest companies plan to use robots in the future will help to illustrate the ways in which robots can fill the role of human workers. Amazon has already integrated robots into the staff at their warehouses, but in the future, they are hoping to replace human delivery with delivery by drone. Or consider how fast food giants like McDonalds plan to cut labor costs by replacing food preparers and order takers with automated systems. (Becker, 2015)
These are just a few ways in which robots already are, or in the future, will take jobs from humans. It will cut labor costs, improve efficiency and take humans out of some of the most labor-intensive jobs that currently exist.
Robots Replacing Human Doctors?
With these trends presenting themselves in many industries, we further can predict the future of healthcare. Robotic systems are already improving surgery in a number of ways; making it less invasive, increasing precision, and reducing the chances of infection. However, there is still much more that can be done. In the next generation of surgical robots, we can expect to see machines that have greater capabilities and the ability to perform a wider range of procedures. (Samadi)
While trends toward miniaturization, precision, and better telesurgical capabilities will be the expectations for the more immediate future, autonomous robotics is what lies further down the road. A system that is fully autonomous would have no need to have a human surgeon at the controls. This could open the door for surgery to be performed in a broad range of settings. (Martin, Advancements in Healthcare and Medicine | Towards a Brighter Future, 2014)
Robotic systems are currently being applied to a variety of different healthcare jobs and it can be expected that this is a practice that is going to expand.
Robots are already taking over or assisting with many of the jobs of a doctor, and every generation of machines is going to continue take on more and more of the duties that patients expect from medical personnel. The technology is a long way from replacing the need for human doctors completely, but it is not unreasonable to expect that one day, scheduling an appointment with a human doctor could be less common than getting treatment from an autonomous machine.
Akland, F. (2015, July 30). “Robot Replace Human” Program in China Shows the Impact on Manufacturing, Jobs. Retrieved September 2015, from E-Cat World: http://www.e-catworld.com/2015/07/30/robot-replace-human-program-in-china-shows-the-impact-of-robotics-on-manufacturing-jobs/
AP. (2015, February 10). Robots replacing human factory workers at faster pace. Retrieved September 2015, from Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-robots-jobs-20150211-story.html
Becker, S. (2015, March 27). 4 Businesses that are Cutting Costs With Robot Workers. Retrieved September 2015, from The Cheat Sheet: http://www.cheatsheet.com/business/4-companies-replacing-people-with-machines.html/?a=viewall
Cassinos-Carr, C. (2015, August 30). 5 Ways the Internet is Changing Health Care. Retrieved September 21, 2015, from sacmag.com: http://www.sacmag.com/Sacramento-Magazine/September-2010/5-Ways-the-Internet-is-Changing-Health-Care/
(2012, June 2). Squeezing out the Doctor. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from The Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/21556227
Hynes, V. (2013, February 19). The trend toward self-diagnosis. Retrieved September 22, 2015 , from NCBI: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3576458/
J A Powell, M. D. (2003, February ). The doctor, the patient and the world-wide web: how the internet is changing healthcare. Retrieved September 21, 2015, from NCBI: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC539397/
John Greenough. (2015, July 29). THE SELF-DRIVING CAR REPORT: Forecasts, tech timelines, and the benefits and barriers that will impact adoption. Retrieved September 2015, from Business Insider: http://www.businessinsider.com/report-10-million-self-driving-cars-will-be-on-the-road-by-2020-2015-5
Kosir, S. (2015, April 15). Wearables in Healthcare. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from Wearable Technologies: https://www.wearable-technologies.com/2015/04/wearables-in-healthcare/
Liou, L. S. (2013, May 7). Robotic Surgery . Retrieved September 2015, from Medline Plus: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007339.htm
Markoff, J. (2014, October 23). New Research Center Aims to Develop Second Generation of Surgical Robots. Retrieved September 2015, from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/23/science/new-research-center-aims-to-develop-second-generation-of-surgical-robots.html?ribbon-ad-idx=2&rref=world&_r=2&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Science&action=keypress®ion=FixedLeft&pgtype=article
Martin. (2014, August 20). Advancements in Healthcare and Medicine | Towards a Brighter Future. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from Entrepreneurial Insights: http://www.entrepreneurial-insights.com/advancements-healthcare-medicine-towards-brighter-future/
Robotic Surgery . (n.d.). Retrieved Sepember 2015, from Division of Biology and Medicine : http://biomed.brown.edu/Courses/BI108/BI108_2005_Groups/04/
Robots, A. o. (n.d.). Robots in hospitals.
Ross, P. E. (2014, May 29). Driverless Cars: Optional by 2024, Mandatory by 2044. Retrieved September 2015, from IEEE Spectrum: http://spectrum.ieee.org/transportation/advanced-cars/driverless-cars-optional-by-2024-mandatory-by-2044
Samadi, D. (n.d.). History of Robotic Surgery. Retrieved September 2015, from Robotic Oncology: http://www.roboticoncology.com/history/
Sirkin, H. (2015, July 15). Robots: The Next Industrial Revolution. Retrieved September 2015, from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/haroldsirkin/2015/07/15/robots-the-next-industrial-revolution/2
Topol, E. J. (2015, January 9). The Future of Medicine Is in Your Smartphone. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from The Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-future-of-medicine-is-in-your-smartphone-1420828632
Unknown. (n.d.). Robots in Hospitals. Retrieved September 2015, from All on Robots: http://www.allonrobots.com/robots-in-hospitals.html
Unknown. (n.d.). Teleoperated Robots. Retrieved September 2015, from CCSI: http://www.mind.ilstu.edu/curriculum/medical_robotics/teleo.php
Wang, J. (2013, June 3). 8 Companies Leading the Charge for Commercial-Use Robotics. Retrieved September 23, 2015, from Entrepreneur: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/226402