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Outside the Lab Public health, Policy

Medical Robotics Are the Future

Both public and private healthcare providers are feeling the strain of spending cuts. The austerity that followed in the wake of the 2008 financial crash has led to drastic cutbacks and, in-turn, a healthcare crisis. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there will be a global shortage of more than 14 million healthcare workers by 2030, if current trends continue (1).

And it’s not just staffing that will face a crisis. Surgical equipment, the latest imaging technology, infrastructure – every aspect of healthcare is feeling the strain. At current funding levels, we will likely see the quality of healthcare decrease unless a solution can be found and embraced. Certainly, there are efficiencies to be gained, but the question is: how do we realize them? Other industries have used new technology to innovate and economize, and so too must healthcare.

A leading example of modern healthcare technology is medical robotics. Taking many forms – from intricate surgical systems to robotically-controlled camera operators – medical robots are already hard at work in our hospitals. One of the most complex, the da Vinci Surgical System, combines a magnified 3D, high-definition camera with tiny, flexible instruments that are far more precise than human hands. Not only can robotic systems lead to better surgical outcomes, they can also help speed-up surgeries as well as reduce the reliance on operating theater staff.

So robots are the solution and the future? Well, there is a problem: cost. Despite having been around for some years now, systems like the da Vinci are expensive to acquire and run (the system itself can cost over $2 million, and the running and maintenance costs are also significant). In reality, such high costs make robotic surgical systems uneconomical for the majority of hospitals. Fortunately, some businesses – including OR Productivity – are specifically addressing the issue of cost. Our FreeHand system, for example, is similar to the da Vinci in some senses, but strips back the more advanced surgical components to provide a solution that is more cost-effective.

By using minimally invasive access to organs and tissues, robotic tools can help to reduce trauma, speed up recovery and minimize costs

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  1. World Health Organization, Health workforce requirements for universal health coverage and the sustainable development goals (2016). Accessed October 12, 2018
  2. University of the West of England, Robotic tools push forward healthcare boundaries (2018). Accessed October 12, 2018
  3. NS Blencowe, R Waldon and MN Vipond, “Management of patients after laparoscopic procedures”, BMJ 8;360:k120 (2018). PMID: 29437677
  4. The Guardian, Google teams up with health firm to develop AI surgical robots (2015). Accessed October 12 2018

About the Author

Jeremy Russell

CEO, OR Productivity, Guildford, UK

CEO, OR Productivity, Guildford, UK

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