In order to make better sense of how technology is already changing healthcare and what may follow, we sat down with Dr Bertalan Mesko. Otherwise known as The Medical Futurist, Dr Mesko is an author, keynote speaker and consultant on the future of medicine and healthcare. As well as contributing to the Future Health Index, he explores the topic of robotics in healthcare in his recent book, My Health Upgraded. We sat down to ask him about his thoughts and predictions:
Philips: Hi Dr Mesko...Let’s jump straight in. Are we really going to let robots operate on people?
Dr Mesko: Yes – surgical robots have the potential to completely change the game, and soon. Surgical robot sales are expected to double to $6.4 billion by 2020. But let’s be clear, robots will not be replacing surgeons – they will be extending their capabilities. Take the example of the da Vinci System which uses tiny wristed instruments under the control of the surgeon. The fact of the matter is that robots have more accuracy and are better suited for highly precise movements.
Philips: Okay, so that’s in the operating room. What about more common frontline medical procedures?
Dr Mesko: Let’s take the example of blood tests – they can be a little unnerving and painful for patients, especially if it takes a few attempts to fine a vein. What if robots like Veebot could carry out the entire procedure in less than a minute, with complete accuracy? I wouldn’t be surprised that repetitive, routine tasks like this will be carried out by machines, leaving healthcare professionals more time to look at more pressing matters.
Philips: And outside of hospitals?
Dr Mesko: World populations are growing and run a real risk of outpacing the number of medical professionals that are available to treat them. For instance, The World Health organization estimates a worldwide shortage of around 4.3 million physicians, nurses and allied health workers. This demand skyrockets when you take more isolated areas into consideration. Companies like InTouch Health are looking at how to deal with this. Using cloud-based services doctors can connect remotely with patients for example in remote areas, or people who are not able to travel. For patients this means access to high-quality emergency consultations when they need it, for important things like stroke, cardiovascular and burn services.