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When Are Robots Taking Over?

The World Economic Forum predicts that robots will supplant 85 million jobs worldwide by 2025. With more news like this one coming out daily, we are left to ponder what facets of our lives are yet to be conquered by robots.

Focusing on healthcare, many people will point out that robots and automated technology have already integrated themselves into various aspects of medicine. Excluding machinery, the most famous example of robot use in healthcare is Robot-Assisted Surgery. Contrary to popular belief, however, no surgery has ever been performed using fully automated robot technology. Instead, all surgeries use robots as supplementary tools to surgeons to achieve higher success rates.

In fact, a study performed by the prestigious University College of London (UCL) shows that patients’ recovery time and readmittance rates were lower in surgeries that used robots, 20%, and 12%, respectively. With all of this apparent success, many people wonder why Robot-Assisted Surgeries are so effective. The success boils down to the original purpose for creating and using the robots in the first place: enhancement. As humans, surgeons are very limited in what they can achieve by mental, emotional, and physical boundaries. However, these boundaries are what make surgeons human, so they simply cannot abandon them. Robots, on the other hand, do not have any of the mental, emotional, or physical limitations that human surgeons encounter. This apparent lack of limitations allows us to perform previously impossible or nearly impossible maneuvers, techniques, and surgeries.

More specifically, the robots used in Robot-Assisted Surgeries provide more precision, flexibility, vision, and control during operations. However, the most significant reason the healthcare industry uses robots is to perform Minimally Invasive Surgeries. Through Minimally Invasive Surgeries, there are fewer complications, less bleeding, less scarring, and much faster recovery. These benefits make the prospect of using robots much more attractive. Much like everything else in the world, however, there are risks and benefits to using Robot-Assisted-Surgery. Most of the risks associated with Robot-Assisted-Surgery are similar to risks incurred with regular surgery, like infections. Robot-Assisted-Surgery has risks that are only present in that setting. These risks include electrical malfunction, mechanical malfunction, data transfer mistakes, and calibration mistakes. However, through continuous use and improvement, Robot-Assisted-Surgery technology is bound to evolve to a point where these risks are minimized to near zero.

While we have discussed the risks, benefits, and purpose associated with Robot-Assisted-Surgery, what exactly is Robot-Assisted-Surgery? As the name suggests, Robot-Assisted-Surgery is the use of robotic and semi-automated technology that allows doctors to perform many types of complex procedures with more precision, flexibility, and control than is possible with conventional techniques. Robotic surgery is usually associated with minimally invasive procedures performed through tiny incisions. It is also sometimes used in specific traditional open surgical procedures. Many people associate Robot-Assisted-Surgery with one specific model. The most famous model is a clinical robotic surgical system with a camera arm and mechanical arms with surgical instruments attached. The surgeon controls the arms while seated at a computer console near the operating table. The console gives the surgeon a high-definition, magnified, 3D view of the surgical site. The surgeon leads other team members who assist during the operation. The most famous company in the Robot-Assisted-Surgery industry is the Da Vinci Surgery System, which uses the model mentioned above. The Da Vinci Surgery System was one of the pioneers of the Robot-Assisted-Surgery industry, gaining FDA clearance in 2000. This extremely early entry into the niche industry is one of the significant reasons the Da Vinci Surgical System experienced such high success. However, this apparent success does not mean that the Da Vinci Surgical System’s company, Intuitive Surgical, will reign alone over the Robot-Assisted-Surgery industry. British Medtech firm CMR Surgical was profiled extensively over the course of 2019 as a key challenger to Intuitive Surgical’s market dominance. Having raised £195m to finance the global commercialization of its MAS Versius robotic system in September last year, the company could well threaten the leading position of the da Vinci system across Europe and Asia.

If Robot-Assisted-Surgery systems are so amazing, why aren’t they more prevalent in the healthcare industry, especially when the world is migrating towards more minimally invasive options rather than regular, more invasive procedures? The main reason would be the immense cost of the Robot-Assisted-Surgery systems. An average Robot-Assisted-Surgery system costs about $2 Million! This extremely high cost means hospitals have to leverage other resources to ensure that the Robot-Assisted-Surgery systems fit into the budget. Even the hospitals that can find ways to integrate Robot-Assisted-Surgery systems into their budgets face the issue of high-cost presentations to patients. Many patients are dissuaded from seeing the high costs of the Robot-Assisted-Surgeries, leading to less revenue the hospitals receive. These obstacles serve as obstacles to large-scale integration of Robot-Assisted-Surgery throughout the healthcare industry. Therefore, we can now wait for technology to improve and see if costs can be decreased enough to see the amazing Robot-Assisted-Surgery systems fully integrated into the modern-day healthcare industry.


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