Sunday, 6 November 2011

Mechanical hand in healthcare

Human life is evolving and so is technology . Healthcare, which is one of the major concerns in the 21Century , is entering a phase where technology is becoming an enabler. In the near future, say technologists and doctors, robots will help us a great deal in bringing down the northbound costs of healthcare and improving operational efficiency and quality of care. 

"Using robots in a surgery leads to enhanced safety, precision and minimum discomfort to the patient. In this procedure, the surgeon controls all the steps at the console, making the same movements as he does in conventional surgery. These movements are transmitted to the four robotic arms and instruments, which actually carry out the surgical steps on the patient ," says Dr AS Soin, chief liver transplant surgeon and chairman, Medanta Liver Institute, who recently conducted a liver transplant with the help of a robot. 

"The advantages are that robotic instruments have a range of movement that human wrists and fingers are not capable of, and the view is 3D. These two attributes enable us to visualise details in small nooks and corners and operate on areas, which are not easy to access in open surgery . In addition, for prolonged operations, surgical fatigue is eliminated. The robotic arms work through small 5-10 mm holes and the operative scars are much less painful and considerably smaller, which can help reduce the number of patients being re-admitted , and thus improve quality ," informs Dr Soin. 

The acquisition of robots in India was started under the initiative of the government with two installations at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi. 

India is gaining international popularity as well. "The robotic surgery in India is performed at a very low cost with worldclass medical amenities and positive results . India offers outstanding medical services that are 60-80 % less expensive as compared to prevailing rates in the US. These factors have made India a preferred destination on the medical tourism map, with thousands of international patients from across the globe visiting India for various medical treatment, including robotic surgeries," says Sudhanshu Sharma, managing director, Techtronics Education (India ) Limited. 

Akash Gupta, a final-year student of mechanical engineering at BITS Pilani, who has been working on a patient monitoring system - Negative Pressure Wound Therapy through robots - which accelerates the healing process, stresses that robots are the future of healthcare. "Technology has grown rapidly in the last 15 years. We are going through that stage where everything is gradually being automated. That is helping humans in the healthcare sector such as in surgeries that require precision to a point that only a robot can." 

"Robotic technology will definitely grow and encompass a huge range of surgical procedures. Robotic surgery has come to stay and will make slow but steady inroads into Indian healthcare," adds Sharma. 


If we look at the ground realities, robotics as a subject needs attention. It is taught as part of a semester in mechanical engineering. 

"For a subject to truly grow, one needs to have a dedicated course at least at the Master's level. Right now, we do not have adequate infrastructure or faculty. Once a student does his BTech, he does not have an option of doing Master's in robotics in India, as I am not aware of any such course that exists. Just spending one semester in robotics, that too, as an option, is not enough because it becomes more like a theoretical subject and for robotics one needs to have hands-on learning and work experience. I feel if we have a strong base in robotics education, proper research can be undertaken and we can have a thriving market for robots," says Gagan Goyal, founder and CEO, Think Labs.

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