Monday, January 24, 2011
Make Way for the Robots – Automated Medical Care is a Reality
The terms “robotics” and “artificial intelligence” have been bandied about for quite some time now, and we’ve seen the advances that have been made in robotics technology and applied successfully in various industries. The world of medicine however, was lagging behind – when lives are at stake, perhaps human intuition was considered superior to robotic efficiency. However, all that is set to change in the coming decade, with research in medicinal robots advancing by leaps and bounds. In particular, robots are already being used or will soon be used in:
• Providing care for senior citizens: In a nation filled with baby boomers who don’t have caregivers and who live alone, these robots are definitely going to be a boon not just to the elderly, but also to the ailing healthcare system of this country. Charles Kemp, assistant biomedical engineering professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his team at the institute’s Healthcare Robotics Lab are working on robots that can safely and effectively help care for senior citizens. Ideally, the machines would be able to provide their charges with access to the Internet, remind them to take their medicines, open doors and drawers, and retrieve objects like pill bottles when guided by a laser pointer, radio signals or touch.
• Aiding surgical teams: This one’s already happening – a tiny robotic arm and workstation unit together called SpineAssist is helping surgeons map out a patient’s spinal anatomy in advance so that patients are spared of complications and pain during and after the surgery. SpineAssist helps surgeons avoid making deep incisions while repairing the spine. Over 2,000 spinal implant surgeries have been completed with a 98 percent success rate with no cases of nerve damage. The use of the robot reduced patients’ hospital stay by 33 percent and produced a 70 percent reduction in misplaced implants.
• Preventing the need for surgery: The robot responsible for this breakthrough is OctoMag – it may be tiny, but it sure is successful in removing blood clots from eye vessels and preventing the need for traditional eye surgeries. It’s made up of five tightly coiled springs, and is inserted up the nose to carry out the procedure.
• Automating surgery: The McGill University Health Center in Canada made history by becoming the first healthcare facility to feature a surgical procedure that was performed entirely by robots. With surgeons controlling them, the robots performed a prostatectomy seamlessly and successfully.
• Dispensing medicine: The day is not far when we can reduce medical errors in pharmacies by using robots to dispense drugs and fill out prescriptions. The Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois, has already set an example through Rosie and Bob, the stationary robots that use pneumatic arms and computer technology to automatically sort, label, package and dispense almost all medicines for inpatients. Rosie and Bob together form an all-automated system, one of only 20 to 30 like it in North America, which is designed to reduce the risk of dangerous medical errors which occur with alarming frequency at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. The system is capable of dispensing 300,000 doses of medicine each month, with fewer mistakes and at lower costs. The machine is also capable of multitasking – Rosie can package, return and dispense simultaneously.
• Delivering drugs: This one’s untested yet, but the teams at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the University of Liege in Belgium, and the University of California, Los Angeles feel they have a winner in their molecular machine made out of DNA that could act as a logic device for chemical sensing and medicine delivery. This DNA robot as it’s called is capable of being programmed because it has a degree of memory. This device could treat cancer and other diseases by being programmed to respond to biomarkers in the same way they respond to acid in a laboratory setting, and being implanted throughout the body, taking advantage of the biochemical signature that each disease has. The biomarker would activate the DNA machine to spring open and release the medicine to treat the problem. DNA medicine is still in its infancy, but as you can see, it’s surely and steadily making its way to maturity.
About the author:
This guest post is contributed by Cathy Thomas. She writes on the topic of Online Computer Technician Schools. She welcomes your comments at her email id: cathy83.thomas at gmail dot com.