The medical robots once only seen in sci-fi movies and television are now becoming a reality. As robotics in healthcare become more common, this trend could boost the affordability of care for individual patients—as well as taxpayers funding a health system that’s about to be stretched to its limits by millions of ageing baby boomers. It’s also likely to result in more accurate diagnoses, minimally invasive surgical procedures, improved patient survival rates, shorter recovery times, cleaner hospitals, and better-trained human surgeons. But a growing robot workforce will also create new challenges for those entrusted with maintaining healthcare security.
Here’s a quick snapshot of robotics in healthcare.
New educational endeavours embrace robotics
According to Healthcare IT News, by the end of 2019, the Australian Medical Robotics Academy should be fully operational. Situated in a biomedical precinct in the Melbourne suburb of Parkville, it will train surgeons on how to use advanced technology to perform cutting-edge procedures on small and hard-to-reach spaces in the body.
The robotics academy will also provide Australia’s scalpel-wielders with access to virtual reality surgery simulators that will provide comprehensive feedback. This will help surgeons safely hone their skills and reduce mistakes. As Victorian Minister for Health Jill Hennessy boasted, “The world’s brightest medical minds will travel here from all over the world to learn new skills.”
Mechanized arms augment human dexterity
A number of private hospitals in Australia have been performing robotic surgery for years. Queensland’s Wesley Hospital, for example, hosts the largest surgical robotics program in Australia. The hospital has also been accredited as Australia’s first Centre of Excellence in Robotic Surgery by the Surgical Review Corporation, an international accrediting body.
Since 2010, Wesley Hospital surgeons have used two Da Vinci Surgical Systems to perform 4,500 urology, gynaecology, gynae-oncology, colorectal, and general surgeries. The Da Vinci surgical system sits somewhere between being a tool and robot, allowing surgeons to “perform minimally invasive surgery with an advanced set of instruments and a 3D high-definition view of the surgical area.”
Androids bring young patients out of their shells
Robotics are also helping children overcome developmental and social challenges in novel ways. For example, ABC News reports that Kaspar, a humanoid robot developed at the University of Hertfordshire in England, is helping bridge the gap for children with social difficulties. Although somewhat jarring in appearance to adults, the specially tailored Kaspars, with their neutral expressions and pre-programmed conversations, are helping children on the autism spectrum develop social skills.
The disability unit at Murray Bridge High School in South Australia has also deployed two robots to similar ends. For three years, the pair—Sam and Phil—have engaged students in a variety of educational areas to help teach social and coping skills.
Prepare for the rise of the healthcare machines
There’s an abundance of applications for robotics in healthcare that are either starting to gain momentum around the world or probably will be soon. Take the following handful of examples:
- Robot pharmacists, nurses, and psychologists
- Robotic exoskeletons and lifelike prosthetics
- Staph-fighting sanitation robots
- Antibacterial nanorobots
- AI diagnosticians and epidemiologists
Healthcare professionals in developed nations are about to be swept up in a wave of technological disruption as many of the tasks they currently undertake become augmented by robotic solutions. As a 2019 IBISWorld report notes, despite Australia’s growing and ageing population, revenue growth is set to surpass employment growth, thanks to these efficiency and technological improvements.
Meet the healthcare security challenge
While there are many positive opportunities for this technology, IT types will surely be imagining what possible healthcare security nightmares could play out. For example, what happens if a malicious actor manages to take control of an exoskeleton that someone with paraplegia is strapped into? Or if they wreak havoc with an automated medicine-dispensing system? Or if they gain access to someone’s medical history?
As Healthcare IT News reports, the findings of a 2018 survey conducted by Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) showed that significant security events were common in the American health system. In response, Lee Kim, director of privacy and security for HIMSS North America, stated, “As more devices come into an organization’s network, adjusting a cybersecurity program to reflect the importance of endpoint security and security of mobile/medical devices is paramount.”
While the report examined the US healthcare system, it’s likely health systems around the world are facing similar issues, especially as more and more devices are connecting the networks of healthcare organisations. This makes it even more crucial for IT leaders in these organisations to maximise endpoint security by pushing for the procurement of devices with impressive cybersecurity credentials.
It’s also important to keep an accurate inventory of devices and ensure the appropriate implementation, configuration, and use of those devices. In addition, make sure that they have software that can remotely locate devices and wipe them clean of data in case of loss or theft. Once a threat gains access to a network, it’s often easy to then move laterally and gain access to more sensitive systems.
Healthcare professionals in developed nations are about to witness vast technological disruption in the field, and there’s no sense in fighting it. While the results are promising and the tech is improving every day, this new future will make it all the more important to lock down these systems and prevent any lurking threats against robotics in healthcare.