Robotic Physicians: Are We Ready for Them?

Would you have a virtual robot treat you on behalf of your usual physician, or, an unknown human doctor? Surprisingly, a study conducted at the John Hopkins University shows that most of the patients would prefer the robot to the human doctor.These robot-physicians not only come equipped with power lenses but also have technology that can store a patients’ record and access it immediately. A doctor, using internet, can assess the situation and see what is going on via video links. His face even appears on the screen and he can interact with the patient.


The aim of this technology is not to essentially replace doctors but to make their services more widely available. In places that are remotely accessible this technology could serve as a very convenient option to provide special care to individuals. It will also make it more comfortable for the doctors who would be able to make diagnosis from their home and report at the hospital later.


Surgery is yet another domain in the medical field where Robots are being touted as the future. Recently, the country’s premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences’ (AIIMS) acquired a four-armed robot, the first of its kind in Asia, to help in surgeries at the department of urology. These robot – surgeons not only take some of the work load off doctors, but also reduce human – error. In addition, they are stable and untiring, can be easily sterilized and are resistant to radiation and infection. They provide the advantage of a three-dimensional view, magnification of the surgery site, and ergonomic environment for performing surgery.


However, such technology needs to be supervised with prudence and care. These robots will certainly be helpful, but, it is important to realize their constraints and exercise caution. They have no judgment and will be unable to use qualitative information. Humans on the other hand are flexible, adaptable and can integrate varied and extensive information. Moreover, these robots cost about a million dollars. In a country like India, where half the population cannot seem to afford basic meals, it is questionable whether they would be willing to pay for such treatments? There is also the issue of upgrading and maintaining the robots, as well as the cost associated with the upgradation.


Robotic surgery has found its place in the fields of neurology, urology and cardiology. In cardio surgery, minimum invasive surgical intervention has been realized with the help of robots. This has provided faster surgeries and fewer post operative complications.


However, I feel that the superb feats performed by these robots can in no way replace a human doctor. The robot cannot realize all procedures – diagnosing, planning and executing the operation without human intervention. It is still dubious to predict whether we will reach a stage where these robots will exist in every operating theatre, mostly because of the huge price tags. But then, about a decade back, had we not thought the same about mobile phones?

Akanksha Tiwari

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