Robots, Health Care & Open Source

The 1980's saw the emergence of some of the first uses of robots in a health care setting. These were primarily restricted to robotic carts used to move mail, medical records, prescriptions, and laboratory specimens around a medical center. There was also an increasing commitment to research and development (R&D) of stationary robotic devices used for specialized purposes, e.g. packaging drugs.

The 1990's saw the production and deployment of a limited array of stationary robotic devices used to package and dispense drugs. The decade also witnessed the emergence of the first robotic surgical devices used by surgeons to perform selected procedures either on-site or tele-surgery at very remote locations, e.g. RoboDoc, Aesop 1000, Neuromate, da Vinci, and the Zeus surgical systems.

The first decade of the 21st century has seen more widespread deployment of robotic surgical systems for use in a growing range of complex surgical procedures. Robotic surgical assistants are now being used in quite a few operating rooms. In addition, robotic devices used to package and dispense drugs are becoming more sophisticated and are now being interfaced to electronic health record (EHR) systems.

Prototype robotic systems are now being tested and used as robotic health aides, for remote bedside teleconsultations, personal care assistants for the elderly, and for many other purposes. It may be that by the end of the next decade we may actually see a wide array of more sophisticated robotic devices being used to collect and feed clinical data into the EHR. This would include nanobots injected or embedded in patients.

We are also seeing a growing range of robotic devices used at the backend of an EHR system for various purposes. Robots that not only package and dispense prescriptions, but deliver the prescriptions, supplies, and other items directly to the nursing station or to a specific patient's room. Other examples of how robots are currently being used in health care include:

• Tele-surgery & Tele-Consultation
• Robot Assisted Care & Physical Therapy
• Robotic Prosthetic Devices
• Medical & Surgical Training Using Robotics
• Robotic Rescue & Disaster Recovery Systems
• Analysis, Research & Development

One final note. Just as open source health IT software products have become quite pervasive, we are now seeing the emergence of open source robots. An open source robot is one whose blueprints, schematics or source code are released similar to the open source software model. See Wikipedia -    

Stay tuned and watch the synergy produced as Open Health and Open Robotics begin to converge.

Have you encountered the use of robots in health care? What was your reaction? Tell us about it.


Robots & Health Care

da Vinci Surgical System by Intuitive Surgical 
InTouch Remote Presence Robots
International Journal of Medical Robotics & Computer Assisted Surgery
Journal of Robotic Surgery
Medical Robotics Online Magazine & Blog
Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC)
McKesson's Robot-Rx
Robosoft  Assistive Care System