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The robots are coming

An article by Oliver Balch in the Guardian (23 July 2016) suggests that machines i.e. robots will become an increasingly common place in hospitals within the next decade.

Robots carrying out surgery on humans sound like a scene from a Sci –Fi film but it seems that not only is it a real possibility, it is actually already happening, albeit in perhaps a limited way.

Dr Christopher D’Souza, a hair transplant specialist at a London based clinic is already using an automated system, effectively a ‘robot’ and is extremely pleased with the saving of time that this has led to. Dr D’Souza says “FUE (follicular unit extraction) involves anything up to 2,500 grafts, which, when done manually, can take three or four hours. That’s tough on my eyes and neck. With the robotic method, there’s absolutely no surgeon fatigue” Dr D’Souza also maintains that using this automated system enables him to focus more on patient care, communication and team management.

In this particular case one can see the benefit of automated technology being used in this way and there is definitely a place for it, however it is essential that a great deal of thought be given to where such technology might be properly deployed, taking into account not only the achieving of costs cutting, but also whether the automated technology will lead to improved care as in the case of Dr D’Souza.

Technology enthusiasts must think through the details or properly consider the likely consequences. In my view there are at least 2 questions that must be asked before any decisions are made:

  • Will the automated technology actually perform the task i.e. the surgery better than a human being could?
  • Will it lead to real financial savings? I.e. will the cost of the robot and all the related technological support and the inevitable staff necessary to operate the technology, actually work out more cost effective than having the surgeon carry out the operation/procedure.

If the answer to both questions is yes, then clearly robots maybe today’s solution to the current and ever increasing problem of a lack of resources.

If however the answer to either one or both of the questions is no, then clearly we need to re-think things, as otherwise there is a very real risk of harm being caused to patients and increased negligence actions.