- According to a recent report, the global medical robotics market was valued at $7.24 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2023. A key driver for this growth is demand for using robots in minimally invasive surgeries, especially for neurologic, orthopedic, and laparoscopic procedures.
As a result, a wide range of robots is being developed to serve in a variety of roles within the medical environment. Robots specializing in human treatment include surgical robots and rehabilitation robots. The field of assistive and therapeutic robotic devices is also expanding rapidly. These include robots that help patients rehabilitate from serious conditions like strokes, empathic robots that assist in the care of older or physically/mentally challenged individuals, and industrial robots that take on a variety of routine tasks, such as sterilizing rooms and delivering medical supplies and equipment, including medications.
Below are six top uses for robots in the field of medicine today.
- Telepresence Physicians
They use robots to help them examine and treat patients in rural or remote locations, giving them a “telepresence” in the room. “Specialists can be on call, via the robot, to answer questions and guide therapy from remote locations,” writes Dr. Bernadette Keefe, a Chapel Hill, NC-based healthcare and medicine consultant. “The key features of these robotic devices include navigation capability within the ER, and sophisticated cameras for the physical examination.”
- Surgical Assistants
These remote-controlled robots assist surgeons with performing operations, typically minimally invasive procedures. “The ability to manipulate a highly sophisticated robotic arm by operating controls, seated at a workstation out of the operating room, is the hallmark of surgical robots,” says Keefe. Additional applications for these surgical-assistant robots are continually being developed, as more advanced 3DHD technology gives surgeons the spatial references needed for highly complex surgery, including more enhanced natural stereo visualization, combined with augmented reality.
- Rehabilitation Robots
These play a crucial role in the recovery of people with disabilities, including improved mobility, strength, coordination, and quality of life. These robots can be programmed to adapt to the condition of each patient as they recover from strokes, traumatic brain or spinal cord injuries, or neurobehavioral or neuromuscular diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Virtual reality integrated with rehabilitation robots can also improve balance, walking, and other motor functions.
- Medical Transportation Robots
Supplies, medications, and meals are delivered to patients and staff by these robots, thereby optimizing communication between doctors, hospital staff members, and patients. “Most of these machines have highly dedicated capabilities for self-navigation throughout the facility,” states Manoj Sahi, a research analyst with Tractica, a market intelligence firm that specializes in technology. “There is, however, a need for highly advanced and cost-effective indoor navigation systems based on sensor fusion location technology in order to make the navigational capabilities of transportation robots more robust.”
- Sanitation and Disinfection Robots
With the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and outbreaks of deadly infections like Ebola, more healthcare facilities are using robots to clean and disinfect surfaces. “Currently, the primary methods used for disinfection are UV light and hydrogen peroxide vapors,” says Sahi. “These robots can disinfect a room of any bacteria and viruses within minutes.”
- Robotic Prescription Dispensing Systems
The biggest advantages of robots are speed and accuracy, two features that are very important to pharmacies. Automated dispensing systems have advanced to the point where robots can now handle powder, liquids, and highly viscous materials, with much higher speed and accuracy than before.