Are Robot Doctors in Your Future?

Posted on Feb 18, 2014 in Technology






10,000 years ago, primitive doctors bored holes in the head to cure patients. Now the “brains” of a computer are saving lives and preventing disease.

So what’s next?





A Brief Timeline:

  • 8,000 B.C.: A hole in the head. Stone age surgeons “cured” certain diseases with a process called trephination.
    1960: The “Brains” An IBM 650 called “The Brains” was used to scan medical records for subtle abnormalities.
  • 1964: MEDLARS. MEDLARS was a computerized database system for indexing and retrieving medical citations.
  • 1974: First clinical CT scanners. The Computed Tomography (CT) scanner (for the head only) was invented by Hounsfield and Cormack in 1972. A full body scanner became available in 1976.
  • 1974: Computerized Gamma Knife. Introduction of the first computer-assisted dose planning program for Gamma Knife, a way to radiosurgically remove brain tumors.
  • 1999: da Vinci Surgical System. This robotic surgical system was introduced by Intuitive Surgical. A prototype was developed in the late 1980s at Stanford Research Institute under contract to the U.S. Army.
  • 2000: Image transmission. Some hospitals were electronically transmitting medical images such as X-rays and MRIs.
  • 2003: Virtual Colonoscopy. The virtual colonoscopy uses a combination of CT scanning technology and computer graphics.
  • 2004: Multidetector CT scanner. This new heart scanning technique could largely replace angiograms.

WOW: 2004 study showed that surgeons who played video games for at least 3 hours per week made 37 percent fewer mistakes than those who did not.

  • 2005: Penelope. Introduction of robotic scrub nurse.
  • 2013: Smart pills. Micro bots. It’s not science fiction. Smart pills are tiny robots that travel through your systems and monitor how everything works, from your vitals to blood flow to temperature in real time. They wirelessly transmit results to a cell phone app, body patch or website. Also called “ingestible computers”
  • 2012: Healthcare in the “cloud.” 55 % of office based doctors now using Electronic Health Records.
  • 2013: The massive digitizing of health care

6 ways technology is improving healthcare
• Internet a main source of medical information
• Healthcare facilities, particularly hospitals, are using social media to establish contact with patients
• Better treatment, less suffering
• Patient care safer, more reliable
• Thanks to smart phones, doctors easier to reach
• Search engines like Google have been able to accurately predict medical trends such as flu outbreaks

6 ways tablets have changed medicine
• Apps for surgery:
• Patient consultations: Japanese doctors use the iPad to expedite and clarify diagnoses.
• RemoteScan, an app that scans medical records
• Going green: paperless doctor’s office
• Alternate keyboard for the disabled
• Children’s hospitals: Medical Video jLog is being used to explain CT scans and MRIs to children

NOW: Artificial Intelligence in medicine
• Special software is available to examine the heart and stop heart attacks before they occur.
• Artificial muscles feature smart technology that allows them to function more like real muscles.
• Robotic surgery assistants, who can not only pass the correct tools to doctors, but also keep track of these tools and learn about a doctor’s preferences.
• Dr. Watson, an IBM computer aimed at diagnosing patients. Watson has already ingested 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, two million pages of text, 26,000 clinical cases and has had almost 15,000 hours of training.

Robots are already practicing medicine at a hospital near you

• Vasteras Giraff is a robot that provides two-way video calling similar to Skype.
• Aethon Tug is a robot that moves through hospital corridors, elevators and departments to make deliveries.
• Bestic is a small robotic arm with a spoon on the end. Helps people eat.
• CosmoBot, is used to enhance the therapy of developmentally disabled children between 5 and 12 years old. And looks cool too.
• Swisslog RoboCourier is mobile robot that dispatches and delivers specimens, medications and supplies.
• Toyota’s robots are made to help paralyzed patients walk or balance themselves.


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (prevention of heart attacks before they occur)
Columbia University Medical Center (robotic surgery assistants)