Robots in Medicine? – Yes, but Also No.

Perfusion.com

By Luc Puis

Are robots taking over the world? Probably, yes, but before we reach singularity, we might use them for the betterment of humanity. Or is it already too late? Let’s take a look at two applications of robots: one that is for the near future, and the other is already in use in some hospitals.

From Tiny Robots Crawling and Swimming in Your Vessels…

Thanks to nano-technology and mimicking nature’s wonderful abilities, researchers at Stanford University in California are developing amphibious, millimeter-scaled, origami crab robots. They will be able to swim through blood vessels and organs, crawl through intestines, and jump over obstacles. Wireless and magnetically powered.

The tiny crawlers are apparently fairly easy to make, but the biggest obstacle is to make the mini robots have about the same density as the fluids they will be moving in.

While it may take another few years to have them available to assist in cardiac procedures, they are already marvels of technology. Researchers see different possibilities for medical applications: delivery of drugs to specific sites in the body, performing endoscopies and biopsies, stopping internal bleeding, or maybe even resolving emboli or performing a pulmonary endarterectomy (we thought of this one ourselves!).

It’s a great time to be alive!

… to Robot Bedside at your Confused Parent

At least, from that side of the medallion. A different approach to using robots in healthcare is displayed infamously in hospitals that are installing robots in patients’ rooms in an attempt to save money on patient care. 

Patients who are normally observed by nursing aides are now being monitored by ‘robots’ ( basically cameras on a stick), who can “observe” up to 16 patients at a time. Unfortunately, when something actually happens to the patient, the observer, who is often many tens of miles away, calls the facility, but there is no one available to answer the call, let alone help the patient. They have been replaced by robots…

And what do you think is going to happen to an already disoriented patient with dementia when they are addressed by a ‘camera on a stick’? Not much, besides more confusion and anxiety. And they have yet to find a robot that can pick up or clean a patient, let alone take compassionate care of a patient. 

Although the hospital states that the robots reduce falling and injuries, the nurses actually working there tell a different story.

It’s a great time to be alive!

We just have to make sure it’s for everyone…

Sources

Marcus MB. Are Mini Robots Coming to Your Hospital? Medscape General Surgery 2012 https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/978521 (accessed 12/19/22)

Ze Q et al. Spinning-enabled Wireless Amphibious Origami Millirobot. Nat Commun. 2022;  13: 3118 https://rdcu.be/c1Udw 

Robbins R et al. 2022, How a Sprawling Hospital Chain Ignited Its Own Staffing Crisis. The New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/15/business/hospital-staffing-ascension.html (accessed 12/19/22)