Remote surgery has the potential to revolutionize healthcare, but what’s necessary to make it a reality?
A healthcare staffing gap is looming on the horizon, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. By 2033, AAMC predicts that an aging population and accompanying retirements will conspire to create a significant shortfall of anywhere from 54,100 to 139,000 physicians.
One development that could mitigate the gap, however, is the expanding role of autonomous surgical robots. Increasing adoption of 5G networks, combined with advancements in autonomous and artificial intelligence solutions and the secondary effects of pandemic-driven telemedicine mandates, has created a unique opportunity for healthcare agencies. Robotic surgery tools capable of assisting doctors in lifesaving efforts at a distance — or completing less complex tasks with minimal oversight — may serve to augment human professionals in a variety of roles.
Surgical Robots are Evolving to Support New Use Cases
As noted by News Medical, medical robotics have been in use for more than three decades. While initial efforts — such as the 1990s-era Automated Endoscopic System for Optimal Positioning (AESOP) — focused on functions such as voice-activated camera control, it wasn’t long before the technology advanced. The next iteration of robots had multiple, articulated arms that surgeons could control from a computer console.
Despite rapid advancement in minimally invasive, remote operations, challenges in form and feedback remained: Larger form factors bounded by processor and part sizes constricted the number of potential use cases, while the lack of touch and force sensations made it difficult for doctors to create precision cuts and identify potential areas of concern.
Advancements in both robotic construction and network connection, however, have spurred new types of robotic surgery. In March 2019, a doctor in Sanya, China, used remote surgery tools to implant a stimulation device into the brain of a Parkinson’s patient who was in a hospital 1,900 miles away.
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