May 19, 2017

Robots, humans and healthcare - are we ready?

Estimated reading time: 3-5 minutes

From manufacturing plants and driverless cars through to kitchen gadgets and toys, technological advances in robotics and AI are all around us in everyday life. Significantly for healthcare, they are becoming valuable tools for doctors and have the potential to fundamentally change the industry as they continue to develop.

But how do people feel about this? Looking to the future, only 1 in 4 would choose an AI-fueled app or wearable to track their health and only 10% of people hope to see full-scale robot healthcare professionals. These are the findings of the latest Future Health Index which looks at the relationship between humans and technology in healthcare as one of its primary themes.

Sitting down with The Medical Futurist


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.

Philips: When thinking about getting things to people quickly lots of other industries are starting to look at drones. Do you see them playing any kind of role in healthcare?

 

Dr Mesko: In medical emergencies, drones can already deliver medical equipment such as semi-automatic defibrillators to doctors located on the ground a lot faster than road vehicles can. There’s a company called Zipline International using drones to deliver medicine and blood to patients in Rwanda. They are also planning to expand to other countries.

 

Philips: We will keep our eyes on the skies. Finally, what role do you see for robots for rehabilitative purposes – for instance, could they help people who have been paralyzed to walk again?

 

Dr Mesko: In theory, yes – Robotics can help people move around and lift heavy objects with ease. For example, an Ekso Bionics suit helped Matt Ficarra, paralyzed from the chest down, walk down the aisle on his wedding day! How amazing is that? But in the future when we start seeing people walking or even running around in them, we will be surprised how much they will appear like costumes from The Matrix trilogy.

Perceptions are changing

 

It seems that Dr Mesko’s predictions are already on their way to becoming a reality. According to the Future Health Index, adoption of connected care technology is already increasing, which could help familiarize patients with robotics and other advancements. For instance, out of 19 countries surveyed, an average 45% of the general population have used connected care to monitor health indicators in the last 12 months. As time goes by, this trend is likely to increase.

 

Technology and healthcare have always developed in parallel to each other. Although patients may have their doubts on the role machines can play, the key may lie in viewing and promoting technology as complimentary to care, rather than a replacement. 

About Innovation Matters

Innovation Matters delivers news, opinions and features about healthcare, and is focused on the professionals who work within the industry, as well as Philips as a cutting-edge health technology organization. From interviews with industry giants to how-to guides and features powered by Philips data, our goal is to deliver interesting, educational and entertaining content to empower and inspire all those who work in healthcare or related industries. 

 

Contact innovationmatters@philips.com

 

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Bertalan Mesko

Bertalan Mesko

Director at The Medical Futurist Institute
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