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Will Robots Replace Doctors?

Shrewsbury, MA

Technological advancements dominate our society, from the first iPhone released in 2007 to Tesla's first self-driving car in 2014. Robots have been taking over fields such as manufacturing and factories due to their efficient and fast techniques. However, what about healthcare? Recent studies have shown that over 250,000 people die due to medical/surgical errors. Therefore, it seems evident that healthcare might be the next field robots take over. With robotic surgery on the rise, it is crucial to understand how they work.

Computers are becoming significantly more advanced, processing far more information than the average human. Healthcare physicians use computers to keep track of patient files. For the longest time, surgeons believed the precision and intricacy of humans were unmatched. However, in 2000, their perception changed with the invention of the Da Vinci Surgical Robot.

robot, surgery, da vinci, minimally invasive
Da Vinci Robot

The Da Vinci Surgical Robot uses a minimally invasive surgical approach. This means that it uses the minor incisions possible during surgery, which allows for shorter procedures and a faster recovery. In 2012 alone, the device was used in about 200,000 surgeries, primarily for prostate removal and hysterectomies.

But the device is not automatic. The Da Vinci System surgeon's console is typically in the same room as the patient that controls the robot's arms while looking into a 3D camera. Technically, the surgeon is still performing the surgery, as the system always needs a human operator.

However, that should not discredit the merit of the Da Vinci Robot. Even though it requires a surgeon to operate, it makes the procedure easier and decreases the number of errors. The advanced 3D camera allows surgeons to make accurate incisions, including in areas the naked eye may not see. Additionally, the flexibility of the arms makes it easier for doctors to reach difficult places with more precision. With the minimally invasive technique, there is less blood loss and less scarring, allowing the patient to recover faster. Even though the Da Vinci system is just an extension of the surgeon, it gives the best clinical results.

However, the Da Vinci system is only one of the many surgical robots. There have been many improvements and new models. In 2022, a team at Johns Hopkins University created a robot that successfully performed laparoscopic surgery without human intervention.

STAR, robot, surgery, johns hopkins
STAR Robot

The Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) stitched the intestine in the soft tissue of a pig. This procedure requires high precision and is one of the most challenging gastrointestinal surgeries. Yet, this robot could adapt to the unpredictability of soft tissue and successfully complete the surgery. Doctors say that STAR may be the breakthrough that automates Medicine.

So, will robots replace doctors? Probably not. Many surgical robots, such as the Da Vinci, still need a surgeon to operate. And STAR will need many more trials before it can operate on humans. Robots may enhance the workforce, but they will certainly not take over. Robots cannot mimic a doctor's empathy for their patients. People trust their doctors with their lives because of their emotional connection. Even if robots are more accurate, there would be a lack of trust in the patients.

But more importantly, Medicine never has textbook cases, and this means that in many cases, doctors are forced to use their best judgment to give the proper treatment. Robots will rely on precedent, as their code relies on what happened before rather than what will.

Therefore, doctors and medical professionals do not have to worry about their jobs being replaced by robots. With future developments, surgeons' jobs will become much easier and much more efficient, but not completely taken away. The relationship between the patient and their doctor relies on trust, which no robot can give.

Learn more about technology from other articles at STEME!

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