Surgical robots: How autonomous robots can change the way we perceive healthcare

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Surgical robots: How autonomous robots can change the way we perceive healthcare

Surgical robots: How autonomous robots can change the way we perceive healthcare

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Surgical robots may transform the field of medicine by improving the efficiency of surgical procedures and recovery time, as well as reducing post-op complications.
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      Quantumrun Foresight
    • January 29, 2022

    Post text

    Surgical robots are actively making medical procedures easier not just for the patients but also for doctors. A human-controlled surgical robot can perform surgical tasks with much higher efficiency and precision than surgeons using conventional medical tools, potentially changing the dynamics of the field of medicine for years to come.

    Surgical robotics context

    Typically, surgeons have to rely on their senses and cognitive abilities when performing complex medical procedures. In addition, they have to adapt to poor visibility and other obstacles inside patient surgical cavities that can contribute to complications during surgeries. Such challenges are the reason why surgeons adopted surgical robotics over the last 30 years; but the developments in artificial intelligence (AI) during the 2010s have contributed to their significantly expanded use in hospitals around the world.

    For example, most surgical robots being developed today rely on medical image data and follow predetermined paths with the help of computer algorithms. In 2016, The STAR (Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot) surgical robot used mechanical sensors, cameras, and AI algorithms to perform surgery during experimental animal trials, exceeding conventional surgeons in specific procedures such as joining parts of the intestine. 

    Another collaborative research project known as Functionally Accurate Robotic Surgery (FAROS) utilizes robotics and artificial intelligence to develop autonomous surgical robots equipped with a wide range of sensing capabilities, which can learn and master highly complex procedures. Although these surgical robots will require human supervision, they are not bound by human limitations, including fatigue, poor visibility, and reduced range of motion. Hence, their implementation can help improve recovery time and reduce complications post-op. 

    Disruptive impact

    With improved features and capabilities, surgical robots will see increased usage during the late 2020s and 2030s across a range of medical procedures. However, regulation of these robots continues to lag their rapid technological development, limiting their near-term adoption. Moreover, surgical robots will likely not replace human surgeons until the late 2040s, as it will take decades for AI algorithms to match the experience and skillset of competent surgeons, not to mention the years of testing required to minimize legal liability risks associated with unsupervised usage. 

    However, such robots can improve surgical outcomes, patient safety, and patient recovery. In addition, increased surgical robot sales may produce an influx of jobs for robotic engineers and AI-developers in the market, as well as attract increased venture capital into the continued development surgical robotics. Such developments will create a positive feedback loop that will see ever more hospitals integrate such tools into their operations, as well as decrease the costs of these robots so that they can employed in less developed countries. 

    Applications of surgical robots

    Applications of surgical robots may include:

    • Developing more autonomous, functional surgical robots capable of performing ever more complex medical procedures with minimal human intervention. 
    • Reducing the overall operating costs and wait-time pressure on healthcare systems, leading to improved patient care.
    • Encouraging more people to request surgical care early in the development of their health issues, as such surgeries will no longer be prohibitively expensive.
    • Similar surgical robots being adopted within pet and livestock veterinary clinics to reduce costs and improve health outcomes.

    Questions to comment on

    • How will the economics of surgical robotics evolve over the 2020s? Will prices will remain high? Or will we see downward pressure thanks growing market competition?
    • Would you ever prefer to get a surgical procedure done with the help of an autonomous robot? Why?

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    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight:

    Scientific American Blog Network The Surgical Singularity Is Approaching