Computer science and robotics have improved medicine dramatically in the last decade, helping to reduce waiting times and quickly diagnose conditions.

More recently, its form has taken the shape of surgical & assistive robotics to help with complicated operations. Medical professionals can carry out complex procedures without stepping inside the surgical ward – something which could only be dreamed of in the past. Surgeons can concentrate on eliminating the medical problem without worrying about their hand positioning, and hand tremors during extended surgical operations are eliminated.

In the near future, there are plans to make robots available in GP surgeries to help alleviate the training and recruitment problems which currently exist in the medical field. So, what are the current problems surrounding the use of robots in clinical settings?

Sensory

Artificial intelligence has enabled surgeons to quickly carry out operations at a computer instead of standing over patients. Technology has allowed tools to be manoeuvred accurately, helping in operations where even the slightest movement could be potentially fatal. Examples of operations include delicate organs like the lung, stomach and bowel for removing cancer.

Instead of using a human hand, a robotic arm is fitted with surgical tools and a camera. A disadvantage to using surgical & assistive robotics in the hospital setting is their limited functions. Robots can’t sense a change in body matter during an operation, so distinguishing between organ, fat, and skin isn’t possible. Using hand tools during surgery has allowed surgeons to feel when an operation isn’t going to plan through feeling feedback in their surgical instruments. Knowing a difference in human tissue through their surgical instruments allows surgeons to quickly make adjustments.

Computers

Relying on any computer to carry out an important task is risky. There are a number of problems which can occur when a computer is used, including the wrong computer codes being used, software crashes and even power outages. In an already stressful environment, if a computer fails, time-consuming adjustments need to be made. Machines have to be moved away from the patient, and a surgeon has to be ready to carry on the operation.

Educating

Surgeons are amazing at carrying out operations by hand. A challenge for most medical professionals, primarily if they trained long ago, is becoming an expert in using a computer and robotics-based systems. An excellent surgeon isn’t necessarily a great robotics engineer nor computer user.

More technology inside a hospital setting also means that the costs of maintenance also increase. Navigating computers takes a different skill set to operate a surgical instrument. Surgeons and doctors have to be trained to use newer technology which can be time-consuming and could potentially take away their passion for the job.

Robotics is and will continue to make a positive difference in the medical technology field. But, at present, the high costs of purchasing and running surgical & assistive robotics on a  budget does mean that it’ll be a while before they’re available in each and every hospital.