Imagine your child requires a life-saving operation. You enter the hospital and are confronted with a stark choice.
Do you take the traditional path with human medical staff, including doctors and nurses, where long-term trials have shown a 90% chance that they will save your child’s life?
Or do you choose the robotic track, in the factory-like wing of the hospital, tended to by technical specialists and an array of robots, but where similar long-term trials have shown that your child has a 95% chance of survival?
Most rational people would opt for the course of action that is more likely to save their child. But are we really ready to let machines take over from a human in delivering patient care?
Of course, machines will not always get it right. But like autopilots in aircraft, and the driverless cars that are just around the corner, medical robots do not need to be perfect, they just have to be better than humans.
So how long before robots are shown to perform better than humans at surgery and other patient care? It may be sooner, or it may be later, but it will happen one day.
But what does this mean for our hospitals? Are the new hospitals being built now ready for a robotic future? Are we planning for large-scale role changes for the humans in our future robotic factory-like hospitals?
Our future hospitals
Hospitals globally have been slow to adopt robotics and artificial intelligence into patient care, although both have been widely used and tested in other industries.
Medicine has traditionally been slow to change, as safety is at its core. Financial pressures will inevitably force industry and governments to recognize that when robots can do something better and for the same price as humans, the robot way will be the only way.
What some hospitals have done in the past 10 years is recognize the potential to be more factory-like, and hence more efficient. The term “focused factories” has been used to describe some of these new hospitals that specialize in a few key procedures and that organize the workflow in a more streamlined and industrial way.
They have even tried “lean processing” methods borrowed from the car manufacturing industry. One idea is to free up the humans in hospitals so that they can carry out more complex cases.