Healthcare Robotics

Robot helps doctor operate from 20 miles away

An Indian doctor helped by a robot has performed heart procedures on patients miles away at another hospital.

In September,  a doctor in India performed a series of exploratory heart procedures on patients who were 20 miles away from him.

He did it using a surgical robot developed by an American company and during the procedures, the  doctor guided the robot with a set of joysticks, via a hardwired internet connection, while he watched on a video monitor. The surgeries were  successful.

The news highlights how quickly robots are being developed for surgical procedures and the frontiers of their applications.

In fact, the global robotics market is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 25% between 2019 and 2024, according to a report by Research and Markets.  As reported by Yahoo Finance, robotic applications are spreading in all industrial areas, including healthcare, entertainment, retail, automobile and defense.

In the healthcare area, one of the catalysts is the rise of an applied engineering field called medical mechatronics.  Mechatronics combines mechanical and electrical engineering and computer science and uses artificial intelligence software to gather information, interpret the data and translate the information into motions and actions.

The goal of these devices is to help surgeons be more precise and perform surgery that is less invasive. This is, in turn, is leading to faster patient recovery, a reduction in post-operative pain and a reduction in length of hospital stay and fewer re admissions due to complications.

Reuters’ article predicted that one in three surgeries conducted in the United States by 2021 will be performed with robotic systems. As the U.S. is the biggest market for surgical robots, this is helping drive sales growth of these systems by 10.4% annually to reach a value of U.S. $6.5 billion between 2018 and 2023.

Intutitive Surgical robot surgery AI
A surgical robot cluster manufactured by Intuitive Surgical Inc. Credit: Intuitive Surgical

Canada has few heavyweights in the healthcare sector and no large players in surgical and medical devices, so investors have to look elsewhere. The U.S. dominates with the biggest public companies. They are well capitalized global players, with a wide array of other businesses that support the expensive research and development costs of this new frontier. They pay dividends and their share prices offer conservative growth.

Brandon Henry, a medical supplies and devices analyst with RBC Capital Markets in New York says the leader in general surgical robots is California-based Intuitive Surgical Inc. (NDQ: ISRG) with a recent market capitalization of US $62 billion.

Medtronic Corp., (NYSE: MDT) the world’s largest medical device company, is number two.  Medtronic had a recent market cap of US $140 billion and operates in 140 countries, but generates most of its sales and profits in the U.S. Third, he says, is Johnson & Johnson, which  has teamed up with Google (NDQ:GOOG) to create Verb Surgical. Verb combines J&J’s tools with  Google’s data analytics, but as yet has no revenues. Other players  include Stryker Corp., (NYSE: SYK) a leader in hip and knee surgery and Zimmer Biomet (NYSE: ZBH).

As the healthcare sector continues to expand its use of robots, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, combining these technologies will create new treatments and streamline old ones.

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