At some point in the advance of every technology the question is asked, "when will this replace the professional?" (Robot surgeons can have as many arms as they need, as in this DaVinci unit from Intuitive Systems.)
Robot-assisted surgery is far from that level, but it is already improving outcomes in a number of areas:
- St. Joseph's Hospital in Atlanta is already using robots in mitral valve replacement.
- Robots are the key to minimally-invasive operations throughout the body.
- Robots are being used in telemedicine for remote interaction with patients.
- Robots have been operating on brains for six years.
So far robots have mainly been used to improve the chance for recovery, to replace a trembling hand, or to make for a smaller scar. They have not yet been used to improve physicians' productivity, to let them do more operations in less time, and thus to cut costs.
As with HDTV surgical cameras, robots are still seen as high-end toys. The question is, for how long will this be the only priority?
Robots can keep a surgery suite going 24-7, with physicians working shifts and teams wheeling patients in-and-out. That has to improve productivity. And it's the productivity of the team which determines how much to charge. The robot's not paid.
Even if you're just replacing the robot with every generation, that robotic theater is going to move down the line, and eventually you have to be doing more, right?
So how about it? When will robotic productivity cut costs? If ever?