AI and robots can make stellar contributions in the healthcare universe. And doctors will be better off for it. Image Credit: Gulf News

When we think about robots in a business setting, we tend to imagine them operating on factory floors as part of sophisticated assembly-lines. That’s because robots have long been a staple of the manufacturing industry, helping to make everything from cans of Coke to the latest supercars.

Yet, as new technologies continue to emerge, it is becoming increasingly clear that we have barely even scratched the surface of what robotics can achieve. By 2023, IDC expects 50 per cent of all industrial robots in use around the world to be infused with, and enabled by, artificial intelligence (AI).

From defining robot behaviour and controlling their intelligence to enabling predictive maintenance, operation coordination, and data processing/analytics, AI has multiple roles to play. And manufacturers can expect to see improvements of up to 30 per cent in productivity and 50 per cent in process automation as a result.

But while the manufacturing industry currently leads the way in robotics adoption, other industries are also being attracted by the clear productivity gains on offer. The three industries that follow manufacturing in terms of spending on robotics and drones are resources, consumer, and health care. It’s the latter of these three that is likely to have the biggest impact on our own lives.

Limiting scope for human error

Patients are obviously the most important stakeholders of the health care ecosystem, and hence better patient engagement should be the primary focus of all care providers. To this end, governments, tech buyers, and even tech providers are realising the importance of robotics in health care to engage patients through technology.

Considering the goal of health care organisations is to provide convenient access to care, outcome-based health, personalised treatment, and high-precision surgical systems, robotics adoption is becoming imperative. This move is also backed by the requirement for health care providers to facilitate an error-free care delivery system.

Indeed, human error is one of the biggest tragedies of all medical errors. Patients die due to such human errors, as well as due to hospital-acquired infections and erroneous practices during open heart surgeries.

According to a Johns Hopkins study, more than 250,000 people die each year in the US alone due to medical errors.

The adoption of robotics enables care organisations to mitigate human error, and much more, while also delivering huge improvements in process efficiency and sustainability. As such, the use of robotics in health care is gaining momentum. But it is still a long way from being ubiquitous.

A mind of their own

As with manufacturing, the merging of artificial intelligence with robotics will have a profound impact on the health care industry, with robots capable of thinking and working autonomously. These robots will support and augment physicians or nurses, by taking over highly redundant jobs that are repetitive and follow strict logic.

As life expectancy grows and the doctor-patient ratio falls, health care is increasingly failing to reach the desired volume and precision. Yet, at the same time, demand for health care is steadily rising and showing no signs of slowing down. Robotics is poised to fill this gap.

The use of robotics in the care system will free up more time for doctors to add greater value in tasks that can only be done using the knowledge and expertise of specialist physicians.

Similarly, with robots carrying out routine functions in hospitals, nurses can spend more quality time with patients, which will ultimately enhance the patient experience.

AI-infused robots can support patients across various care processes. For example, they can help the elderly by monitoring their health, ensuring timely medication, and sending feedback to their doctors.

Such robots can even sense facial expressions and read the emotions of patients. However, the focus is not only on elderly care.

Indeed, the range of potential use cases within the health care industry continues to grow, from robotics surgery to disinfection of hospitals to precision diagnosis to rehabilitation to cancer treatment to nanorobots.

As the health care industry increasingly embraces the digital revolution, the use of robotics in the provision of care will provide us with a fascinating glimpse into humanity’s own near-term future.

- Jyoti Lalchandani is regional Managing Director at IDC.