Robotics and AI’s Rapidly Growing Impact on Healthcare
Whether robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) will have a significant impact on healthcare is no longer a question of “if” or “when”. Robotics and AI applications are already transforming healthcare, and their presence is expanding rapidly.
The origin of medical robotics dates back nearly 30 years, and the use of robots is increasingly being seen in surgeries where precision and repetition are key to success. Although there is still no substitute for the experience and expertise of a well-trained surgeon, the simple fact is that, when it comes to performing very small and repetitive actions, a human operator does not always outperform a machine.
In procedures where small movements and additional degrees of freedom are needed, a robot can be a great addition to the human hand, as evidenced by the da Vinci robotic-assisted surgery system. The da Vinci system is probably one of the most significant developments in medical robotics. Incorporating surgical instruments with visual aids, the da Vinci robot helps surgeons perform surgeries with more precision. At Bumrungrad International Hospital, da Vinci is used in surgeries where doctors must operate within cavity areas requiring very fine precision, such as surgeries within the prostate, kidneys, uterus, pancreas, or intestines.
Case in Point: Prostate Surgery
The first fully robotic-assisted laparoscopic radical prostatectomy using the da Vinci system was carried out in 2000. Robots were still a novelty back then, but the new technology and its anticipated benefits quickly made it a compelling alternative to open and laparoscopic surgeries, both for surgeons and for patients. Within a few years, about 10% of all radical prostatectomies in the U.S. were robot-assisted. This year, that number will be about 90% (source: CDC.gov).
Advancing Joint Care
Beyond the da Vinci system, MAKOplasty robots are making inroads in joint-related surgeries, which require extreme delicacy and precision. Studies have shown that patients who received their joint replacement through the use of MAKO experience a significant decrease in the friction between their implants and bones, thus leading to less pain and a chance for the patient to return back to normal mobility much faster.
In areas of healthcare where medical products and medications are stored, automation can be a great way to ensure accuracy and safe delivery to patients. When Bumrungrad implemented the use of the Swisslog drug-management system back in 2008, it was the first hospital Asia to implement this type of advanced and automated management system that does not rely on human memory and manual safeguards alone.
AI Makes Inroads
AI’s ability to interpret massive amounts of data makes it especially useful in healthcare, where it is being used to identify the relationships and patterns between patients, symptoms and treatment outcomes to determine the optimal treatment for a patient’s unique medical situation.
In 2016, Bumrungrad became the first hospital in the world to launch Watson for Oncology, which uses the IBM Watson supercomputer’s artificial intelligence capabilities to support quality care for cancer patients.
In seconds, Watson processes a patient’s medical information and attributes, then searches its huge database of information — thousands of cancer patients’ medical records and genetic profiles, global treatment guidelines, journal articles and peer-reviewed research studies — and delivers a series of recommended treatment options for consideration.
Watson serves as an expert “second opinion” for cancer patients and a cognitive decision support tool for the hospital’s oncologists treating the cancer types that account for 80 percent of all cancer cases.
AI is also showing promise in the area of medical imaging. A number of companies are testing AI applications that train computers to read and interpret x-rays and other images well enough to raise the accuracy of tomography and other imaging-based screening technologies.
AI may also play a role in stemming the growing global threat from drug-resistant pathogens. This year, over 700,000 deaths worldwide are likely to be caused by drug-resistant infections, which are dangerous on their own and a primary trigger for sepsis, a life-threatening illness caused by the body’s response to an infection.
In the U.K., doctors have raised concerns that the over-prescribing of antibiotics is to blame for the rising number of cases of resistant bacteria such as E. coli. The threat is compounded by farmers’ heavy antibiotics use in animal feed — which eventually enters the human food chain via the consumption of products such as beef, chicken and pork (source: Gov.UK).
The problem is expected to worsen substantially in the coming decades — by 2050, the annual death toll could reach 10 million, with nearly 4.7 million deaths occurring in Asia alone (source: Review on Antimicrobial Resistance 2014).
If the threat is left unchecked, drug-resistant pathogens have the potential to profoundly disrupt the modern healthcare system. Surgeries and aggressive treatments would become too dangerous to justify. Life-saving treatments such as organ transplants and chemotherapy would no longer be possible because they rely on antibiotics for success.
The pathogenic culture method for testing antibiotic resistance has been used since the 19th century. While useful, this method is time-consuming, labour-intensive, often results in delayed categorisation of microbial resistance levels, and can even result in mis-categorisation.
Next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology and microbial identification software were developed to accurately identify the type and characteristics of micro-organisms. The technologies have been applied to diagnose infectious diseases, determine prognoses, screen potential pathogens, and reduce the risk of hospital-acquired infections, which can be as high as one in 25 patients.
Fighting Drug Resistance
Bumrungrad International Hospital recently entered into a partnership with Biotia to develop AI and health-related technology to analyse, diagnose, and treat cases involving drug-resistant pathogens. Biotia is a health tech joint venture between researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York’s Cornell Tech, specialising in DNA sequencing-based technology and AI-powered software to rapidly and accurately identify micro-organisms and anti-microbial resistance.
The two partners are determined to help patients by developing medical technology and are moving forward to sequence-based pathogen detection, starting with 1,000 samples, which will be collected, analysed and stored in the database at Bumrungrad International Hospital Clinical Laboratories.
Faster Identification, Greater Accuracy
The partnership represents an advancement in real-time organism identification using portable sequencers on-site and the Biotia AI pathogen identification software. This breakthrough has two key advantages: 1) It reduces the time needed to identify pathogens, anti-microbial resistance markers and virulence factors — from days or weeks to only hours; and 2) It increases accuracy in preventing and controlling infections.
The technology is a major step towards the adoption of sequencing technology for infectious disease diagnoses. Bumrungrad is one of the leading hospitals adopting this new technology to manage anti-microbial resistance.