Not long after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, Czech writer Karel Čapek first introduced the term “robot” to describe artificial people in his 1921 sci-fi play R.U.R. While such highly intelligent humanoid robots imagined by Čapek and yet to be created, the robots most commonly used today are complex systems that work alongside humans, assisting with an ever-expanding set of tasks, making their presence felt in many industries, most notable in the healthcare domain.
Advantage robots in healthcare
New advances in robotics and AI are making surgeries more precise and accurate. Robots are also helping hospitals lower their costs. They are going where human hands and tools can’t, which has translated into more successful surgeries. Some surgeries have also become less invasive because of robotics. As reported in TechNative, robots are also helping hospitals save money by reducing labor costs. Robot assistants are also now performing routine tasks such as cleaning and food delivery to patients’ rooms.
As Dr. Sudhir P. Srivastava, Managing Director and Founder of SS Innovations, believes the cost-effectiveness of robotic surgery can take this technology to the most remote and rural areas. Giving the example of India, he says, “In most developing economies, the majority population stays in rural areas or smaller towns with limited access to timely diagnosis and treatment. A cost-effective technology, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning can help improve true telediagnosis, tele-treatment, and telesurgery utilizing teleoperated robotic systems.”
“As a Robotic Cardiac Surgeon, I have seen huge benefits among heart surgery patients that do not have their sternums split and recover very fast with less trauma and complications,” he informs, adding that we can change the direction of surgery with a cost-effective surgical robotic system in India and globally to benefit a larger segment of the under-served patient population.
Dileep Mangsuli, Head, Development Center, Siemens Healthineers, emphasizes that the focus on collecting and harnessing the massive amount of healthcare data will make medicine more precise, ensuring the right treatment to the individual patient at the right time. This is especially true with robotics, AI and digital is emerging as the new normal in healthcare.
“Technology like robotics has grown to a level of maturity,” says Jayakrishnan T, IEEE Member and CEO, Asimov Robotics, who believes that while affordability and lack of indigenous solutions are still bottlenecks in robotics healthcare, in the coming years, we are certainly going to see a robotics play a key role in the global as well as Indian healthcare market.
“We already have robots that are capable of 24×7 monitoring, sending emergency alerts to doctors and are used for dispensing medications, sterilizing equipment and moving patients,” he says.
In a piece in Nature Machine Intelligence, Johns Hopkins researchers discuss how the coronavirus pandemic has driven unexpected innovations in automation, while at the same time revealing bottlenecks to deploying robotic systems in health care settings. They contend that advances in human-robot interaction—such as improving robots’ capabilities to feel, touch, and decide—will determine if the robots of tomorrow will help hospitals stay ahead of the next pandemic.
According to P. N. Sudarshan, Partner, Deloitte India, “The healthcare industry more than ever is embracing the concepts of ‘co-bots’ where humans and professional services robots are working together. Hospitals are increasingly deploying professional services robots for purposes such as outpatient screening, cleaning and disinfecting and delivery of food/medicines to isolation wards, etc. while ensuring safety in operations.”
Robots and the future of healthcare
For robotics or any tech-based solution to be the panacea for the healthcare challenges in India, it’s imperative that the solutions are strategic in nature and are accessible to the larger population.
Srinivas Prasad, Founder and CEO of Neusights believes that the coming years will see the unfolding of even bigger transformation in the healthcare sector in India. This transformation can be accelerated, and will have a greater impact, if the products and solutions are developed, leverage emerging technologies such as AI, robotics and IoT.
According to him these technologies can help healthcare providers improve productivity and the efficiency of care delivery, thereby enabling them to deliver quality care to a larger population. Healthcare practitioners will be able to reduce burnout and spend more quality time on patient care.
“The highest level of healthcare ought to be a right and not a privilege for the chosen based on economic considerations. The Governments can take initiatives to promote the manufacturing of various currently imported technology components for medical devices to make them more affordable,” Srivastava says.
Already, Government Scheme like “Ayushman Bharat” that covers healthcare insurance for over 500 Million in the country is a positive step in this direction. As Srivastava notes, it should be covering procedures that use high-tech equipment including Robotics. This would further enhance indigenous production of such complex systems to benefit the most.