Medical robotics is an advanced discipline within the field of robotics which involves the development of robots that can perform various medical tasks. Many people think specifically of surgical robotics when they hear the words “medical robotics,” but in fact robots can do a wide range of things in hospitals and medical clinics. In addition to being rather interesting to see in action, medical robotics has the potential to relieve strain on many health care systems by automating tasks, freeing up health care workers.
A robot may be used as a replacement for a human to perform a task like delivering patient samples to a laboratory, with delivery robots roaming the halls of a medical facility to collect samples which are left out for them. Medical robots can also be stand-ins for doctors and nurses for certain types of health care, such as triage in an emergency room. A well-programmed robot can quickly interview a patient while taking vital signs, and determine the level of care that he or she needs.
The most advanced aspect of medical robotics is surgical robotics, in which a robot actually performs surgery. A surgeon controls the robot from a distance, but the use of a robot instead of human hands has some distinct advantages. Robotic surgery is less invasive, because only very small incisions are needed, which decreases the healing time for the patient and reduces the risk of infection and complications. Robots can also be used in telesurgery; a patient in a remote area could have access to a specialist in a particular type of surgery through the use of a surgical robot which could interface with the surgeon at a distance.
Medical robotics has the potential to greatly reduce the size of operating room teams, which reduces the risk of contamination. Robots do not need assistants to keep the surgical field clear, pass tools, and perform other tasks, which means that a surgical team could be reduced to an anesthesiologist to monitor a patient, and a surgeon to handle the robot. Medical robots may someday be able to perform complex tasks like monitoring patients while they are under anesthesia, or keeping track of patients in critical care, performing routine tasks which are currently executed by nurses.
Like other forms of technology, medical robotics is constantly reforming and advancing. Several major universities around the world have medical robotics research facilities, where new tools are built, refined, and tested. Medical robotics equipment is currently quite expensive, making it accessible only to well-endowed hospitals, but the potential for providing primary and critical care in impoverished regions with the use of robots is encouraging to many aid organizations.