Dr. André T. Nemat moderated the "Smart Robotics – How to Build Intelligent Machines for Healthcare" panel at the MEDICA Health IT Forum. He has been the chief physician of several thoracic surgery departments for many years. Before he started his esteemed career in medicine, he also studied engineering. In this MEDICA interview, he describes the trends and challenges of robotics in healthcare settings.
Dr. Nemat, what is a robot and what are important trends in robotics?
Dr. André T. Nemat: What comes to your mind when you hear the word "robot" is shaped by the way they have been depicted in science fiction literature: we think of humanoid or android artificial beings that are more or less human-friendly in nature. But when we look at actual surgical robots, they are drastically different from illustrations in works of fiction.
The meaning of the word "robot" has also radically changed since the term now also includes software applications and the associated algorithmic intelligence. As we continue to embrace digitization, these technologies and evolutionary developments are permeating every aspect of our lives and will play a significant role in transforming medicine and especially surgical procedures in the near future.
Are there any problems or challenges as a result?
Nemat: You always have challenges in a transition phase whenever a technology is comparatively new and slated to replace outdated processes but has not yet reached the maturity level that makes it convenient for everyone to use.
For example, one issue is that certain technologies only reach a particular standard when they become part of the training of young doctors, both during their medical studies and later in specialty training. We must create access to these new opportunities in continuing education and training, while the instructors themselves still follow a learning curve. That is why I see a certain challenge when it comes to transforming training and education and creating new standards.
There are also limitations in terms of the technology itself. We are still far from an intuitive operation of these devices or a maturity level that promotes an intuitive use for all users. This means that for now we are still faced with technology deficits that we must first address and continue to develop.
Last but not least, we must also consider the amount of data that is generated by robot applications as part of digitization. This results in critical data security issues and challenges. Data safety, security and privacy concerns play a big role, especially in healthcare and medical environments, which always entail sensitive, personal data. This goes along with legal, regulatory, and ethical challenges that we are only just beginning to understand, identify and deal with.