December 29, 2021
The future has a north: according to experts, innovation in health will continue to advance with telemedicine, hand in hand with robotics and artificial intelligence.
The pandemic gave telehealth a boost due to the strong need to speed up care, diagnosis and treatment times. Something that was already happening was boosted and accelerated: the use of computing and robotics to improve patient care.
What’s here to stay: telemedicine
The first technology that became natural thanks to COVID-19 is telemedicine: the consultation through a mobile video call. The digital recipe was also added.
In the middle of the 21st century it seems like a no-brainer, but it took a pandemic to get patients and health workers to accept this format of medical advice.
But the controversy continues because some professional associations reiterate some definitions on why telemedicine must be used.
The World Medical Association points out: “Telemedicine should be used mainly in situations where the doctor cannot be physically present in a safe and acceptable time and due to inaccessibility due to distance”.
“An international collaborative effort led by the WHO could pave the way to a greater penetration of telemedicine, especially to benefit the disadvantaged and those living in low-resource environments,” says a work by the Reprogram consortium, for the recovery of the health system during the pandemic.
The work, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, concludes: “Artificial intelligence and robotics could play an important role in the provision of telemedicine services during an outbreak or public health emergency.”
Cabins and robotics
Technological innovation can go beyond a simple video call. The next step is stations or robots that help diagnose the person.
The Social Work of the Personnel of Turf Activity (OSPAT) put itself at the forefront of this technology in Argentina with the recent inauguration of the Diagnostic Station “Hola Doctor!”.
It is a cabin that allows self-checks assisted by voice and image. It uses a set of devices that provide diagnostic information. The patient can also interact with a doctor through a video consultation.
The medical robot can help relieve the health system, reduce the cases of nosocomial infections and prevent health workers from having to be exposed to situations of high contagion.
Robots could be very useful in the triage that takes place at the entrance to a medical institution. There are already prototypes that interact with the patient and can measure temperature, breathing rate, pulse and oxygen saturation.
One problem with robots is how well people accept this technology in the doctor’s office. “Sometimes we think of different solutions, but they are not possible to adopt because people do not accept them,” says Givanni Traverso, an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who developed a medical robot with Boston Dynamics.
The researcher also conducted a survey in the US to determine the degree of acceptance of robotics in the field of health. They asked if they would be willing to have a machine not only triage, but also swab, insert a catheter, or mobilize the patient. The majority of respondents were in favor of receiving this kind of assistance.
Robots are also beginning to assist in some surgical interventions. An example already present in the country is Da Vinci, which complements the surgeon in interventions such as heart valve repair, coronary bypass surgery, obesity surgeries, and prostatectomy and hysterectomy in cancer patients.
Another robot recently developed in the UK can perform a colonoscopy almost automatically. It is one of the most uncomfortable practices for patients.
In this case, it is a smaller probe than usual that has a magnet. A robot with another magnet moves the probe from outside the patient. The equipment can be handled by less experienced professionals, but it also has a semi-automatic mode.
Some advantages of robotic assistance in surgical interventions are: better vision and in three dimensions, more precision (eliminates the natural tremor of people) and better access to difficult places for interventions.
Another sector that accelerated thanks to the pandemic is the use of artificial intelligence in health. His contribution was to help diagnose patients from x-rays, tomography, etc.
CoronavIAruX uses AI to diagnose COVID-19 pneumonia from an X-ray. The system achieved 91.5% accuracy (it even manages to distinguish pneumonia caused by COVID-19 from that caused by other viruses or bacteria).
This is an efficiency above that achieved by a panel of expert radiologists, but it also reduces the time that medical professionals have to devote to the evaluation of each patient.
This is achieved thanks to machine learning (automatic learning), the ability of computers to detect patterns from massive data. Based on this you can make predictions.
Machine learning has been applied for years to the discovery of new drugs. The challenge now is to use it for diagnosis and for what happens after ingesting a drug, when it enters the body (pharmacokinetics). In this way, the development of new drugs can be further refined, for example to find antibiotics faster and cheaper.
“It is clear that machine learning is creating a paradigm shift in medicine, from basic research to clinical applications, but it must be embraced with caution,” warned a 2019 Nature editorial.
And he added: “Vulnerabilities such as data security and computer attacks can result in a wrong diagnosis, could be used for fraudulent interests and present a real threat to technology”.
By Lucas Viano @LucasViano
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Tags: covid | Hi Doctor | Innovation | new treatments | guest | health of the future | health system | Technology | telemedicine