Future Robotic Surgery: A Growing Need
History of Robotics
Mechanical robots were initially used in experimental surgical settings in the 1980s, but the technology did not develop completely until the 1990s.
The use of mechanical robots in neurosurgery began in 1985 with the use of Puma 560, while today; they have proven their worth in precise cannulae positioning for brain biopsies. Following the use of Puma 560, specialized camera-guided robotic surgical systems such as Neuro-Mate, Minerva, and the Robot-Assisted Microsurgery System were introduced into brain surgery settings. In surgical environments requiring highly precise placement for ensuring the patient’s safety as well as the operation’s effectiveness; precision-engineered miniature mechanical robotic appendages have proven helpful.
Passive robots are the type of surgical robots remote-controlled by a surgeon. Whereas, active robots differ from passive robots in the use of programming and visual data for conducting surgery without the need for a remote surgical operator. More sophisticated surgical robots like the Da Vinci surgical system which is considered the most advanced general-purpose robotic surgical system in use today possess this capability.
How are Robots Helping the Healthcare Sector in its Development?
Robots are ubiquitous in sectors ranging from sci-fi to hospitals, where they are known to revolutionize healthcare. In spite of these robots resembling R2D2 from Star Wars more than humanoid figures; they are significantly impacting the medical field. Deployment of robots in medicine relieves medical professionals from mundane tasks which distract them from more critical responsibilities and also makes medical procedures safer and affordable for patients. They are also capable of executing precise surgery in small spaces as well as for transporting hazardous materials. They have also exhibited their potential in supporting drug development and production, thus enabling faster medical tests for patients as well as helping pharmaceutical companies meet manufacturing demands.
Robot Provision in Healthcare
The use of automation and robotics in healthcare and associated sectors is rapidly expanding. As per the International Federation of Robots (IFR), there will be a continuous rise in the demand for medical robots. Robots assist healthcare professionals and medical staff in performing complex and precise tasks, along with reducing their workload and improving the overall efficiency of healthcare facilities.
The kinematics and dynamics of a medical robot are application-specific. Both serial and parallel robots are used in various tasks which range from surgery and rehabilitation to service robots. An example of a Parallel Kinematic Manipulator (PKM) is FlexPicker (ABB, Zurich, Switzerland), also known as the "Delta" robot, which was specifically designed for medical applications but is now extensively used in the food manufacturing industry. Most hospital service robots are variants of mobile robots that have a huge payload capacity but have limited degrees of freedom (DOF). On the other hand; surgical robots possess multiple degrees of freedom along with being flexible, precise, and dependable systems having an equivalent performance to that of a well-trained human surgeon with the least error margin usually within millimeters.
Surgical Application of Robotics Technology in Healthcare
The isolation chamber designed during the Ebola crisis was used to hold the first COVID-19-positive individual identified in the United States. Patient consultations could be conducted without the need for physical contact between the patient and doctor using a robot outfitted with a camera, a microphone, and a stethoscope. Today, technology may also allow remote conduct of surgeries without necessitating the physical presence of a physician. Apart from the advantage of remote conduct of operations; today’s robotic systems also minimize the risk of contamination caused by exposure to infectious aerosols by requiring fewer personnel in the operating room as compared to traditional open surgery. Surgical suites that are completely contactless must be considered in light of the current pandemic. The use of robots in surgeries has also been linked with minimally invasive procedures.
The Future of Robotics in Healthcare
The adoption of robots across the entire healthcare spectrum is supposed to increase as the range of tasks executed by collaborative and mobile robots is expanding. The number of robots performing tasks like retrieving and conducting materials and medications, that avoid significant interaction with physicians, nurses, and patients is anticipated to increase in the short to medium term. With the improvement in software algorithms in the long term, more robot-to-human interaction will come into existence.
The demand for robots used for healthcare assistance shows promising potential even though it is still in its initial stages. These robots possess the capability of providing information, responding to simple questions, and also of communicating with the user with a professional therapist via video link in certain cases; thereby allowing remote communication between doctors, nurses, and patients. Mobile bases equipped with computer screens, for example, can abide nurses or browse autonomously to a patient's bed so as to facilitate remote communication of a patient with a doctor in another location. This has many far-reaching benefits which are not just limited to impactful specialist consultations arising due to the ability of the doctor to see and interact with the patient but also range to the medical interaction with potentially infectious patients. Also, the concept of personalized treatments has come into existence with the help of robots in surgery which has helped to enhance the success rates of surgeries.
The Role of Robotic Technology in the Surgical Environment
Surgical care is a fundamental aspect of any healthcare system, and it includes both elective and emergency operations that contribute to the population's health services. Owing to the urgency of management, the involvement of multiple teams, and high-risk activities, operating rooms can act as high-risk areas for transmission. Numerous surgical societies have issued safety guidelines for procedures owing to the significant risk to practitioners during COVID-19. The spread of pathogens can be effectively reduced by integrating robots at various points in the sequence that each surgical patient ends up going through during the tenure of their hospital stay. The ultimate motive of integrating robots in the surgical workflow including steps like pre-operative care, anesthesia, surgical procedure, and post-operative care is to ensure minimum interaction between the patient and the health care provider at each step.
The current pandemic illustrates the level of dependence of our activities on a living person’s physical contact. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic; this obligation presents a serious challenge in surgical settings. In order to avoid the spread of pathogens; elective surgeries are deactivated which leads to the patients and hospitals facing serious physical, mental, and financial consequences. AI and robotic innovation prove to possess tremendous potential so as to deal with this challenge. Apart from their application in operational settings; these technologies have scope in numerous other tasks including digitized patient admission, impactful triaging during peak times, vital sign procurement and monitoring, classification of high-risk nodes, sterilization with real-time contamination feedback, blood drawing, and drug and food delivery. Robots used in operational settings have the capability of locating intravascular lines, intubating patients, and managing the airway. Since the inception of the use of medical robots in healthcare in 1980, medical robots have continually proven their efficiency in assisting medical procedures.