For some, the idea of technology helping to improve healthcare is exciting, to others not so much. Robotics in surgery is one exciting (or scary) area in medicine where technology has been advancing very quickly. In the past, robots have assisted surgeons in performing complex operations, helping to minimize pain and recovery time while improving satisfaction and outcomes. Now, surgeons in Washington DC have demonstrated that robots may soon, operate by themselves, without any human assistance! Look Mom, No Humans involved in my surgery! This is both exciting and daunting. Think about the possibilities for increasing access to surgical procedures, in areas were there are not enough surgeons. Wide spread use of autonomous surgical robots could significantly reduce wait times to obtain critical operations or by combining the robots with telehealth infrastructure, potentially enable anyone, anywhere to receive surgeries they need, any time of day or night! In the future, these robots might even be cheap enough and small enough to fit into ever single home. Imagine, going to your bathroom, bedroom or man cave to have your next surgery! Right now the AAMC is projecting huge physician shortages of up to 90,000 physicians overall and specifically 31,600 surgeons in less than 10 years!
But what about the down sides? What happens when something goes wrong and there is no surgeon involved in the operation? Even if it happens in a hospital rather than a home, who is responsible for the problem or fixing the problem? What if the problem is caused by an electrical failure or intermittent broadband service? Should the public utilities companies or telecommunications providers and ISP’s be at least partially liable? If you believe these problems are so significant that we should not go down this road, then how will we fix the base line problem of significant surgeon shortages in the next decade and beyond? We can’t build medical schools or increase the number of medical school graduates fast enough to compensate for those currently retiring, much less to make up for projected deficits! No matter what we feel about the potential risks associated with advances in medical and health technologies, it is certain that they will be a part of the future of health in America and across the globe. The Robot will see you now!