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7/22/2014
07:06 AM
David Wagner
David Wagner
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10 More Robots That Could Change Healthcare

These medical robots bring fresh ideas to healthcare. Ready to see one at your local hospital?
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I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords. Still, as they infiltrate everything from our assembly lines to our living rooms, robots can be just a little disconcerting. Now they plan to conquer the hospital. The first time a robot crawls down your throat or carries you from your bed, you'll likely panic. But before you enlist to fight against the robot threat, remember their purpose -- robots go where we can't, either because of danger or physical limitations. So, before they end up taking over the planet and enslaving humans, they are going to do some amazing things to save our lives.

In fact, robots and medicine go so well together this isn't the first medical robot slideshow we've done. Back in 2012, we covered robots that could do anything from reminding you to take a pill to scraping plaque off your arteries. We showcased more medical robots last year. We just can't get enough.

And for good reason. The medical robot field is growing exponentially. The current $1.7 billion medical robot market is expected to rise to more than $3.7 billion by 2018. And this does not include robots in fire and rescue, military training, and robots designed to improve home life.

It is difficult to estimate just how many robots are wandering the halls of our local hospitals, because it depends on how you define robot. For instance, at least 800 hospitals use telepresence robots. These are rolling devices controlled by doctors and equipped with cameras and tools to allow for remote consultations. There are also "robot surgeons" like the da Vinci, which also require a human to operate them remotely. Both of these are innovative, but they aren't robots so much as remotely operated machines. We wouldn't call a remote control toy car a robot.

For the purpose of this slideshow, we're going to focus more on robots that aren't fancy remote controls for doctors. And when we do talk about remote vehicles, they will include novel approaches that are just too good to ignore. (Spoiler: Doctors use robot "maggots" to drill into your head and eat tumors.)

These amazing robots will do everything from clearing cancerous tumors to helping amputees learn to play music again. They perform more mundane tasks, as well, such as helping patients take medicine, and even throwing up. Why do we need a robot that throws up? You'll have to click through the slideshow to find out. But I promise you'll see a set of really exciting ideas.

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio

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tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 3:49:01 PM
Re: nifty, but not likely
"Still, I think there is a place for robots and telemdeicine in more rural areas. For isntance, the RIBA seems more likely to be useful in place where the population is small and there are fewer people in the workforce to help with care."

@David: I do agree that these robots will have a useful application in the rural areas, however my only concern is about the maintenance of these robots. You also need skilled professionals to ensure the proper running of these robots and troubleshooting if required. These resources are difficult to find in rural areas.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/22/2014 | 3:43:20 PM
Re: nifty, but not likely
And more nurses who don't spend their retirement suffering from back pain! (My best friend's mom was a private duty nurse for years; she suffers terribly from a bad back, thanks to all the lifting she did over the years.)
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/22/2014 | 3:41:16 PM
Re: nifty, but not likely
Reimbursement is a big issue. Some employers or payers are encouraging telemedicine by reducing the co-payment (sometimes to $0); of course it helps employers since employees no longer have to take time off to see the doctor, but insurance premiums for telemedicine can be lower than in-office visits. Some insurance companies now offer telemedicine as a lower-cost option to in-person visits and an alternative offering for clients (the employers). And more healthcare systems are partnering with telemed providers (like an American Well) to OEM telehealth services staffed either entirely by their clinicians or in part (perhaps augmented on weekends/holidays/ nights). 

Yes, with cities I was referring to inner cities with high rates of poverty where private practices might not want to set up and free clinics typically are overworked and underfunded. Given the stats I've read separately on the overall population's adoption of cell phones, it seems most people do have cell phones - and many have smartphones, at least in the US - so a good percentage would be able to use telemedicine. Verizon even has a telemedicine offering -- Virtual Visits; perhaps there's even a way of working with local government health agencies so those calls are free for those receiving government aid?
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 3:33:00 PM
Re: Kernerworks
Absolutely David. I'm glad to share. Most folks have no idea and only know what they have seen in the movies. The reality is much more sobering. Here are some points as outlined by SLATE.COM and demonstrated in this video courtesy of Mario Vittone: The Instinctive Drowning Response

 

"1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help.  The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled before speech occurs. Drowning people's mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people's mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

2. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water's surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.


3. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.


4. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people's bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs."
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 3:31:57 PM
Re: nifty, but not likely
@dave -- I like them all, so I can't just pick one to vote for. They strike me as something out of a Stanley Kurbick movie from 20 years ago -- which means, they were ahead of their time then, and their time has arrived now. Costs will come down, and we will see them in more places that we didn't expect. I don't have a doctor now who doesn't have a computer for records and reference. When I saw my first mainframe in 1978, I wouldn't have thought it would migrate to anyone's desk.
cafzali
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cafzali,
User Rank: Moderator
7/22/2014 | 3:31:35 PM
Re: nifty, but not likely
@Alison A likely stumbling block to increased adoption would be insurance reimbursements for telemedicine consultations. I see this as a much bigger issue for rural residents than urban areas unless by urban you mean cities with high rates of poverty. Most cities have the best medical care in the country -- at least from an access standpoint. The stickler is whether or not people have the ability to pay for it. And now with the legality of the certain ACA provisions being called into place, this could get sticky until resolved by the Supreme Court. 

To me, we need to start thinking about health care as an issue that's primarily economic because the jury's in -- we can't afford the current system we have now. The question is what are we going to do about it that will help us become more competitive. 
soozyg
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soozyg,
User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 3:24:06 PM
Re: Kernerworks
@Vnewman2 very interesting.

Actually, funny...the same thing happened with childbirth. I took those silly Lamaze classes and read all kinds of books and all of it went out the window during delivery. I started with the special breathing and my OB said, "Uh uh. No. Don't breathe like that, it doesn't help at all. Breathe like this." All those classes went right out the window. (sigh).
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/22/2014 | 3:22:09 PM
The Da Vinci Dilemma
One question, too: There have been lawsuits around da Vinci robots and, while I'm not an attorney or a specialist in robots, I wonder whether those suits will stultify some healthcare organizations' interest in using robots, at least in the OR or around patients? 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
7/22/2014 | 3:20:25 PM
Re: nifty, but not likely
I am a huge advocate for telemedicine for everywhere, from rural regions to busy cities. I agree that areas don't want to lose their hospitals -- and they don't have to -- but alll the stats show we're going to run out of general practitioners (even if nurse practitioner rules are loosened) and some places (like inner cities and rural regions) will be even more under-served. Estimates vary, but figure that at least 25-33% (or even more) of cases could be easily dealt with via a phone, video, or instant message consultation with a remote clinician and that decrease in clinicians would hurt less. Plus some physicians would work part-time instead of retiring since they could work from anywhere. As one doctor told me, all she needs is her laptop and her lab coat and she's ready to work as a full-time telehealth physician.
sferguson10001
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sferguson10001,
User Rank: Moderator
7/22/2014 | 3:20:08 PM
Re: Kernerworks
@Dave: A lot of interesting stuff here, and it's good to see that some of the bigger institutions are investing in and experimenting with these robot designs. The other day, an MIT grad student posted news about a robot that has the same range of motion as the human wrist and hand. However, one question, we talk about a $4 billion or so market in a few years, but what part of the medical field stands to benefit the most? Is there a particular area more open to this technology? It would seem that robots can benefit those with severe injuries more, but maybe you have a different take?
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