Focus on AI and healthcare - 1
By Anand Parthasarathy
March 15 2019: Care giving is hard work, tedious, boring and often emotionally draining. Most of it is done by the lowest paid rung of medical workers. And there is always a shortage of such staff. Which is why the healthcare assistive robot market is seen as the most promising application of robots in medicine -- and an estimated $ 1.2 billion market within 5 years.
Walking robots that cart medication and supplies across hospitals are a common sight in some Japanese and American hospitals, replacing 'runners' and ward boys.
But what about a robot that wakes up elderly patients greet them with a human-like voice, help them out of bed and make sure they are clean after going to the toilet, then ensure they take their medicine? The Robot Caregiver is triggering a gold rush-like trend in end-of-life care and will soon enable many such patients to remain in their own homes. Robots with brand names like Paro, Tugs and Bestic are available off the shelf, to assist the elderly.
But the biggest inroads of robots in healthcare may be in the area of surgery. Robotic Surgery also known as Robot-assisted surgery, marries advanced computer technology with the skill and experience of a human surgeon. It is a method of performing surgery using very small tools attached to a robotic arm. The surgeon controls and manipulates the arm from a computer console. The huge advantage is this: An electronic eye in the robot arm sends back a high definition 3-D image, magnified 10 times, which the surgeon can view on the computer screen: something not possible in conventional surgery.
The surgeon uses controls in the console to manipulate special surgical instruments that are smaller and more flexible than the human hand. The robot replicates the surgeon's hand movements, and eliminates human shortcomings like hand tremors. The result: surgeons are able to perform the most complex procedures with a higher degree of precision, dexterity and control than ( pardon the pun!), 'humanly' possible.
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, led the robotic revolution in India. The first robotic surgery (of the prostate) was performed at AIIMS in July 2006. The first robotic device to perform surgical procedures was the da Vinci Surgical System launched in 2000 -- and it remains the most widely used worldwide -- there are some 60 installations in India alone. Robotic surgery is increasingly used the for treatment of prostate, kidney and urinary bladder cancer as well as for spine surgery.
But in a country where such advanced technology tends to be concentrated in metros, can robots perform surgery remotely -- with the surgeon miles away from the patient? This exciting possibility became reality -- a few months ago.
The CorPath system from US-based Corindus Vascular Robotics was used to conduct the world's first-in-human robotic coronary surgery in India on December 4 and 5, 2018. Five patients located at the Apex Heart Institute in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, underwent the procedure from a distance of 32 km. It was performed by Dr. Tejas Patel, Chairman and Chief Interventional Cardiologist of the Apex Heart Institute, from inside the Swaminarayan Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.
Robotic surgery is a done thing today and the option is increasingly available in India's leading hospitals, public and private. Now after the successful Ahmedabad trial, the Next Wave may well be Tele Robotics -- robotics surgery from afar.