At its core, robotic-assisted treatment enables physicians to focus on what matters most – the patient. It’s important to always remember that robotics, particularly in procedural settings, aren’t meant to replace physicians, but rather augment their capabilities. As a physician myself, I know full well that trained clinical judgment and human compassion will always be irreplaceable.
Enhancing Outcomes, Preserving Physicians
In delicate coronary procedures, misplacing a stent by a fraction of a millimeter could determine whether a patient needs to have a stent replacement in the future. But with robotic assistance, we can measure sub-millimetric distances and place stents with optimized precision, minimizing the risk of a readmission. Robotics and automation can also provide predictable and repeatable movements, facilitating better standardization of treatment, which allows physicians to focus on clinical decision making.
Additionally, AI-enabled robotics has the potential to add value to a variety of procedures by minimizing the risk of mistakes and making treatment more efficient. The future of combining robotics, AI, and machine learning will be critical to augmenting human capabilities to allow for physicians to effectively treat more complex diseases. Making even the most complex procedures faster and more efficient allows physicians to treat more patients in a shorter amount of time – a critical benefit as we try to address the chronic shortage of specialists in the U.S. With physician burnout rates closing in on 80%, robotic technology is poised to curb this rate by reducing the physical toll paid by physicians. Robotic platforms and devices are now at our fingertips, with the hopes of enhancing skills and decreasing the chances of a negative outcome.
There are also benefits of medical robotics outside the clinical realm. Late last year, clinicians implanted the first robotically engineered heart valve, which combines a proprietary biopolymer with an innovative valve design intended to eliminate calcification and withstand stresses and strains without failure. Through robotic engineering, the variability that typically occurs as a result of human production is greatly reduced, enabling high precision, repeatability, and quality, while substantially improving the economics of heart valve manufacturing.
Moreover, robotic assistance has made certain procedures safer for physicians, staff, and patients. Interventional cardiologists, for example, experience the highest levels of radiation exposure among medical professionals, but robotic-assisted intervention allows physicians to control the robot while seated behind a protective shield that eliminates a majority of radiation exposure. Physicians who perform cardiovascular procedures risk sustaining career-threatening orthopedic injuries resulting from years of standing hunched over patients while wearing a 40-pound led apron. Sitting during robotic-assisted procedures not only has alleviated the stress on our joints, but it will also likely elongate careers and allow us to treat higher volumes of patients.
Increasing Access to Care
By combining robotic technology with telehealth and 5G capabilities, telerobotic treatment has the potential to completely revolutionize the delivery of care across the world. Remote procedures can dramatically lower the rate of mortality and morbidity suffered by patients who simply lack access to timely care. For emergent conditions like heart attack and stroke, access is crucial.
Currently, nearly one-third of Americans live more than an hour away from a specialized care facility that can treat a stroke and many states don’t have a single comprehensive stroke center. As a result, patients are dying or living with the burden of serious long-term health effects because they did not have access to appropriate care fast enough. This, combined with the expected shortfall of 61,800 non-primary care physicians by 2030, increases the need for innovative treatment solutions such as remote robotic procedures.
By empowering physicians with the tools to perform interventions on those patients remotely and reaching them at the onset of stroke symptoms, technology can enhance quality of life and remove tremendous amounts of unnecessary costs for patients and payers in the health care system. Through telerobotic treatment, procedures that require the attention of a highly skilled physician can be performed remotely, granting access to high-quality care to underserved patient populations without geographic barriers to treatment. For underserved patient populations and those restricted by geographic location, telerobotic treatment could be the only life-saving option available.
Post-Pandemic Healthcare Needs Robotics
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to significantly impact the healthcare industry. New regulations and protocols designed for the pandemic could potentially remain in place and alter the way doctors in various fields work and protect themselves and their patients. One of the key considerations healthcare systems are reevaluating as a result of Covid-19 is their disinfecting and distancing protocols.
Hospitals and health systems need to be innovative with the techniques and technologies used to prevent the spread of diseases and need to look closely at how to best protect patients and staff. One way that hospitals can prepare is by adopting strategies and technologies that encourage procedural distancing – physical separation of patients and healthcare providers during procedures. By adopting robotic technologies, hospitals can prevent direct exposure, protecting both the doctor and the patient. This is key not only during the Covid-19 pandemic but also for preventing the spread of other diseases to already vulnerable patients moving forward.
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