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The Research Nest

The Pros And Cons Of Having AI-Powered Robots As Doctors

What could the future be like for the healthcare industry?

Image source- Wallpaper Flare (under CC license)

December 31st, 2019. New Year’s Eve.

While the whole world was celebrating, a person walks into the hospital in Wuhan, reportedly showing symptoms of unusual pneumonia. Soon, this was seen in various patients spread across the whole city, consisting of 11 million people. The medical officials, 7 days later, labeled it as the Coronavirus. And 4 more days later, a 61-year-old man dies. This is how it all started. Fast-forward to today, we have over 1.5 million confirmed cases and, a saddening and horrific death toll of over 95,000. Corona. A virus, which in itself is a collection of many viruses, which are responsible for infecting various organs badly and quickly. The virus spreads like wildfire and as the stats show, it did.

While the diplomats were thinking of a way of containing the virus which they are doing so, pretty well, some people are continuously risking their lives, to makes others’ better. The medical personnel.

Doctors do not just risk their life by treating the patients, but they also don’t have adequate medical tools and sanitary drugs for treating them right. This itself creates a risk, being on the frontline. The virus is highly contagious, and it may get deadly. As per the Business Insider, at least 3300 of the Chinese medical staff are infected. In Italy, over 8.3% of the total cases comprised of the medical staff. The numbers, however frightening, don’t stop them from doing their duty.

However, you think AI and robots would have helped them? Let’s see.

When we start thinking about why and where the robots can be used in the medical sector, the first thing comes to mind is the precision and tirelessness of the machines.

Let’s take Neurology for example. We know that the brain is a tricky part of the body and extreme care is required while operating on it, as every millimeter can cause a problem.

  • Robots, due to their precision, can be used in conducting sub-millimeter precision operations on various parts of the body.
  • AI or specifically, “Image processing” could be useful in the detection of abnormalities in different parts of the human body. We can also use AI in diagnostics, which can help doctors to give faster analysis and hence can treat the patient quickly. AI can search a large database of diseases and also pick up those which humans may neglect.
  • Robots can be used to nurse the diseased patients, which could finally guarantee near-perfect isolation rooms, to treat people with a contagious disease, like Coronavirus. If we could have had the robotic nurses right now, we could have saved thousands of medical personnel who got infected at the time of treating the patients.
  • Not just patient-specific, but robotics may also be used for the infrastructure-specific help, for example, 100 percent sterilization of the hospitals without compromising the cleaner’s health. Robots may also be used to supply the medical tools and drugs, without causing infection for the courier.

You may have noticed, everything you read is said as a possibility (like, can be used or may also help, etc.). But, almost all of the applications discussed above, have been implemented already!

The precision surgeries performer, Da Vinci surgical robot, which was introduced in 2000, has been used to do more than 200,000 surgeries in 2012 itself. The Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot has been used to sterilize the whole hospital room in a matter of minutes. Moxi, the AI nurse is being used in hospitals to assists the nurses for various tasks.

LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot. (Image source- Xenex.com)
Diligent Robotics founders along with their product Moxi. (Image source- Diligent Robotics Press Kit)

So what? Should all the hospitals just grab one for them and start using? Well easy tiger, let me give you the whole perspective first. How do we do that? Some pros and cons. Lame? Okay, I will do the cons first, cool?

Cons

  • Robots cost more. The da Vinci robot costs around 2 million USD.
  • Robotic surgery is expensive to the patients, around 3000–6000 USD more than the normal surgery.
  • If robots make mistakes, who do you blame? Let’s take the team leader’s example, the da Vinci robot. It is under FDA investigation since 2013, as it has led to many deaths. The da Vinci robot is linked to at least 144 deaths. The thing is you don’t have anyone specific to blame. How can you punish a robot? If not them, then who? The creator? The surgeon, who used it? This is a legally grey area and due to this, it has been under a lot of controversies, especially in the ethics domain.
  • If you need to work with robots, you have to train the medical staff to use it, and that could take time. A lot of time.

Okay wait, don’t hate them, they are good too. Look at the pros.

Pros

  • Robots are faster at diagnosis.
  • Robots never get tired, so can make numerous decisions without any fatigue.
  • Robots neither get nor transfer the diseases.
  • Robots have the steadiest hands and can-do precise calculations.

So, will they replace doctors?

Well, robots on one side can surely help the doctors in many ways, from doing surgeries to diagnosing tough diseases. But a normal person still may not trust them. The thing is, using robots in the medical field sounds cute more than secure. We always still trust the experience of humans than robots. We are human beings, we like to be treated as one, with emotions. Even though robots are more precise than doctors in some cases, robots will most likely not replace humans anytime soon. Maybe never.

But wait, why?

Well, robots can and have messed up. There is much criticism for them, a lot of which is appropriate. Robots can’t take symptoms (yet), so their thought process is limited. They can only process, what is given to them. Robots don’t have empathy (and again, yet); hence they will fail to deal with patients psychologically. Robots will always take whatever is given to them as valid input. Meaning, they could be fooled easily.

AI can be developed as great as we possibly can, but it will always require a human touch, especially in the medical sector. AI won’t be a stand-alone, and nor will be doctors (we do want more precision), they both need to go hand-in-hand and we will have a better medical structure.

What do you think?

Further reading

Additional references

Editorial Note-

This article was conceptualized by Aditya Vivek Thota and written by Dishant Parikh of The Research Nest.

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