Robotics is becoming increasingly commonplace in the world of healthcare, where funding for medical robots within the field of biomedical engineering is rising.
There are compelling reasons for engineers to develop medical robots for use in a healthcare setting. Unlike human beings, robots are tireless, and their "hands" don’t ever shake, they don’t lose concentration and get bored, nor do they buckle under a heavy weight. And critically in the era of Covid-19, robots don’t get ill. They can perform precise movements beyond the human range of motion and keep working for as long as their battery permits. For these reasons robots in medicine help by relieving medical personnel from routine and menial tasks and can make medical procedures including some forms of surgery more accurate, safer and less costly.
Here are our top three robotics use cases in hospitals around the world…
Robots disinfecting hospital rooms
Along with minimising medical and surgical errors, hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are another widespread problem in healthcare that is improved with robots. The CDC reported that 1 in 25 patients will contract an HAI in the USA. HAIs often occur because hospitals can't always clean rooms with 100 percent sterility between patients, whether due to time constraints or the simple invisibility of germs.
Xenex, a Texas-based company produces a unique robot. It uses high-intensity ultraviolet light to disinfect any space in a healthcare facility quickly and efficiently. The Xenex Robot is more effective in causing cellular damage to microorganisms than any other device designed for disinfection, and thus it reduces the number of HAIs.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began Xenex has seen its order book increase by 600%. It’s LightStrike robot achieved a greater than 99.99% level of disinfection against SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19, in two minutes. Initially designed to be used in healthcare settings, the robot is now being deployed In other environments such as residential buildings and stadia.
Telepresence robots are a common application. They can function in a variety of ways and forms. A telepresence robot is a remote-controlled, wheeled device that has wireless internet connectivity. Typically, the robot uses a tablet to provide video and audio capabilities. Telepresence robotics are a booming market, with analysts predicting global spending on robots to eclipse $150 billion by 2025.
Telepresence robots often monitor the elderly, whether it's for fall detection or for allowing the patients to communicate on-screen with a doctor. During the COVID-19 pandemic telepresence robots have allowed patients on the intensive care ward to communicate with their family, who are not allowed to visit. The robot can stand next to the bed of the patient and using the tablet it carries, it can deliver a video conference.
These robots have also enabled doctors quarantined at home to stay productive in emergency rooms, allow nurses to see patients without having to worry about personal protective equipment and generally limit exposure to the virus by reducing the frequency of in-room visits. In addition to improving facility safety, these robots are also used to improve patient monitoring, response times, and medical education as well as special needs and research assistance.
Robotic surgery has been rapidly adopted by hospitals across the world. The global Medical Robotics market is valued at US$ 2775.3 million in 2020 and is expected to reach US$ 3374.5 million by the end of 2026.
For many surgical procedures the introduction of robotics has been found to enhance precision, flexibility and control during the operation. The da Vinci Surgical System is a multi-armed wonderbot, used to reduce surgical errors and make surgery less invasive for thousands of patients. Introduced more than 15 years ago and after more than 6 million surgeries, the da Vinci Surgical System gives surgeons more precise control for a range of procedures. Using magnified 3D high-definition vision and controls that strap to a surgeon's wrists and hands, the da Vinci System makes tiny, exact incisions that human hands might not otherwise be able to make. This offers enhanced control to surgeons and, since the surgery is less invasive than traditional surgery, a faster healing time for patients.
The Cyberknife is a robotic surgery system that delivers radiation therapy to tumours with sub-millimetre precision. Invented in the 1990s, the CyberKnife system is used to treat cancer at hospitals and treatment centres all over the world. The system is a radiation source mounted on a robot, which allows for a targeted beam of radiotherapy that manoeuvres and adapts quickly.
The CyberKnife has allowed for treatment of tumours in areas of the body that were once surgically complex to operate on, including the prostate, head, neck and liver. This procedure is non-invasive and minimises the exposure of healthy organs and tissues to radiation.
Robots in healthcare are not a new idea. However, with the coronavirus pandemic placing pressure on hospitals and healthcare workers to deliver services, the drive to automate has been expedited and accelerated the adoption of hospital based robotics. This trend will only continue once the pandemic is over with further use cases explored.