Some of us might remember the 1987 movie Innerspace, which introduced the concept of medical nanotechnology to mainstream culture. Others might feel wary about entrusting humanity to artificial intelligence and robot technology, thanks to the perils brought about by The Terminator franchise and the ethically-negligent, fictional Skynet corporation.
We’ve come a long way in accepting technology’s role in our lives, and advances in materials, microprocessing and data storage promise a great deal of change in how we conduct our lives.
So how do we feel about emerging technology in healthcare? Are we ready to entrust our wellness to robots, artificial intelligence, and internal nanotechnology?
Let’s have a look at some of the ways cutting-edge technology is at work improving and saving lives.
Let ROBEAR do the heavy lifting
What are the challenges to independent living as we age, or if we lose mobility? Can you imagine your spouse carrying you from your bed to your chair, when she’s half your size? ROBEAR is a robot designed specifically to meet the demand of assisted-living caregivers in Japan’s aging population. The robot with a teddy-bear face can gently lift patients, turn them to prevent bedsores, and reduce lower back injuries on professional and family caregivers.
Down the hatch: Swallowable robots
According to MIT News (and common sense) batteries aren’t part of the human’s recommended diet, yet each year, 3,500 button-style batteries end up swallowed by patients in the United States. While most of the time, the battery is passed with little damage, batteries do leak dangerous chemicals that can cause the battery to adhere to the stomach’s lining.
Scientists stepped up to the need for safe removal of ingested batteries by developing a tiny “origami” robot that folds into a swallowable capsule, and with the aid of magnetic guidance, helps move the stuck battery and even make minor repairs to internal tissues.
Tech takes a bite out of dental shortages
There aren’t enough dentists in China to meet the demand for denture fittings, so technology poised to fill in the gaps (sorry). Engadget reported that a woman in China recently volunteered for a procedure in which robots successfully fit and implanted two 3-D printed teeth, under the supervision of medical professionals.
What scares you more: The idea that your dentist is inspired by Steve Martin’s character in Little Shop of Horrors, or that it might have a crush on your toaster oven?
Nerves of steel
Have you ever wondered if the phlebotomist at your doctor’s office had too much coffee before her shift? What if superhuman precision made the difference between life and death in the removal of a shard of shrapnel stuck next to a major artery? Advances in microprocessors, optics, gears, and software are adding a dimension of sensory response and accuracy to applied medicine that improves everything from simple blood draws to robot-assisted surgical procedures, enhancing patient comfort as well as outcomes.
Other “smart technology” has already scrubbed in to streamline healthcare
If you’re interested in different ways tech is impacting the medical industry, open your favorite internet browser (or wake up your automated home assistant) and ready to go down the rabbit hole with some of these interesting topical tidbits:
- Special coatings and “nanocapsules” target cancer cells with concentrated medicines
- Pharmacies using robots to sort, count, and dispense pills
- Automated decontamination of hospital rooms
- Robotic vasectomy reversal
- Enhanced access to and cross-reference among medical records through secure cloud computing
- First eye surgery operating a remote-controlled nanobot inside the eye
- Applying artificial intelligence to psychiatric patients through apps and software programs
Can technology improve or replace bedside manner?
Western culture has embraced technology at nearly every level in our daily lives. We use applications on our smartphones to check up on our children, sensors in our cars to keep us from falling asleep at the wheel or running over the family dog in the driveway, and internet transactions to pay our bills and track our finances.
At the same time, we’re complaining that our medical providers aren’t spending enough time with us when we visit their offices or seek emergency treatment, and as a society, we’re losing trust in our healthcare system’s ability to meet our needs.
Have we arrived at a junction in which we can rely more on technology for applied medicine, freeing up our medical professionals to provide more face time and compassionate guidance? How do you feel technology will advance our society’s wellness?
That’s something you might want to discuss with your doctor, or maybe even mull over with your virtual psychiatrist…That is unless you haven’t already uploaded your queries to your cloud-based medical records through your intracranial microtransmitter.