AI and robotics are increasingly becoming a part of our healthcare systems, transforming the way that we prevent, diagnose and treat different illnesses – as well as improving patient care. For example, medical robots can help by relieving highly-skilled healthcare professionals from routine tasks. They can also perform highly accurate surgery, improve patient rehabilitation or target medicines specifically to where they are needed inside the body.
Surgeons are already routinely using robotics to help them to operate with greater precision – meaning less pain and faster healing for patients. In 2000, the da Vinci Surgical System became the first robotic medical device to gain approval. Since then, it has performed more than 20,000 surgeries .
And this is just the beginning. Other types of medical robots are also set to join our hospital workforce. Many will take on the burden of time-consuming, repetitive tasks that are currently carried out by nurses, such as taking blood or recording vital statistics – freeing up their time to deal with issues that require human communication skills and empathy.
We may also employ disinfection robots that can obliterate microorganisms using ultraviolet rays, protecting patients from hospital-acquired infections. A US hospital reported a 70% drop in C.difficile in its intensive care unit through the use of one such device .
Other robotic advancements will help improve the lives of patients outside of the hospital. These include robotic prosthetics – or devices such as ‘exoskeletons’ that can help correct malformations or with rehabilitating patients after a brain or spinal cord injury, helping them to walk again. Or robot companions who can visit people at home – carrying out routine health check-ups and helping to combat loneliness.
And tiny medical robots – or ‘nanobots’ – may also be sent to work inside our bodies. Scientists are developing these microscopic robots to target drugs or other treatments to where they are needed in the body, increasing their effectiveness and reducing the risk of unwanted side effects.
But the area of healthcare where robots can perhaps offer the most transformative potential is applying the power of AI in diagnostics. Robotic systems now exist that can diagnose medical conditions with a huge degree of accuracy. Recently, evidence shows that AI is as effective as humans in the diagnosis of various medical conditions – and in some cases, more effective .
These medical robots offer huge opportunities for increasing people’s access to healthcare services.