The Robot is In: The Future of Medical Robotics in Thailand
The idea of medical robotics might have once been more closely associated with science fiction than regular healthcare, but these days the use of robots to assist in healthcare is becoming a standard practice. In a word, medical robotics is the future of medicine. What started out in the 1980s with the use of a robotic arm to assist in a few select surgeries has now grown into an important component of any advanced healthcare setting. Thailand’s role in this important industry is more than just an observer or even occasional participant.
Robotics in healthcare are increasingly necessary
Robotics are typically used where there is a need for precision and repetition and these are areas where robots have typically outperformed a human operator. Traditionally, this pattern has taken place in the areas of automotive and electronics assembly and manufacturing. Increasingly, there are tasks in the medical field that will also benefit from the use of robotics, such as high precision procedures where smaller movements and additional degrees of freedom are required that would be difficult to achieve by only using the human hand. Another example would be in the use of automated systems that improve the accuracy and safety of the delivery of healthcare to patients. In an initiative identified as Thailand 4.0, the country has taken an active role in the field of technological advancement, in which medical robotics play an important role. Through the dedicated research center at Mahidol University and the regular use of advanced medical robotics at leading hospitals such as Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, Bumrungrad International, and Bangkok Hospital, medical robotics continue to grow in Thailand. So what exactly do these medical robotics entail for the future of healthcare in Thailand? In order to answer this, we need to first identify some of the most popular robots that are in use at our leading hospitals.
THE DA VINCI ROBOT
Arguably one of the most significant developments in the field of medical robotics, this conversation would not be complete without a mention of this robot. The da Vinci Robot incorporates surgical instruments with visual aids, helping doctors perform important surgeries with even more precision. This robot is controlled by the surgeon, who makes all the necessary movements in real time through an imaging and control system, while the robot carries out these movements within the procedure. The da Vinci Robot continue to play an extremely important role in the advancement of surgical processes, and is now used by leading hospitals around the world, usually for minimally invasive procedures.
Here in Thailand, the use of the da Vinci Robot has been embraced by many of the country’s top hospitals, including Bumrungrad International and Bangkok Hospital Phuket, which incorporate the robot to assist in complex surgeries such as the treatment of prostate cancer, as well as in cavity areas that require very fine precision such as in the kidney, uterus, pancreas or intestines. Less damage to healthy tissue, a smaller incision, and faster healing time lead to a much better quality of life for the patient, making the da Vinci Robot a very important part of today’s advanced medical treatment.
SWISSLOG: THE PHARMACY ROBOT
The Swisslog robot is a drug- management system that controls the packaging, storage, and dispensation of prescription medication. The use of this pharmacy robot has been standard
practice at Bumrungrad Hospital since 2008, making it the first hospital in Asia to utilize the technology. Medication errors are a very real and a too- common occurrence in many hospitals around the world, simply because before the advancement of automated management systems, the safe dispensation of drugs relied on human memory and manual safeguards alone.
This technology removes the human factor, by allowing for the automation of preparation, packaging, and dispensation of prescription medication; these are all tagged using a series of barcodes that match with the barcode worn by the patient. Once medication has been prescribed, the system checks for everything starting with the patient’s identity, dosage, time, and any possible contraindications with other drugs, thus eliminating as many negative outcomes as possible before dispensing to the patient. The robot is an integral part of the system design, which is created to prevent medical errors related to medication from occurring. The use of this robot also facilitates bigger efficiency, as pharmacy staff are able to have a reliable backup system that goes a long way to ensure patient safety.
ROBOTIC ARM INTERACTIVE SYSTEM ( RIO): ADVANCING JOINT CARE THROUGH MAKOPLASTY
For patients suffering from joint- related injuries, surgery might be the last hope for getting back to better quality of life. However, in many cases these surgeries require the kind of delicacy and precision that is best achieved through a robot. This is where Makoplasty comes in. Controlled by the doctor and powered by the Robotic Arm Interactive System, a Makoplasty allows the surgeon to treat very specific joint conditions with excellent precision and accuracy. Through the use of real time imaging of the joint combined with the precise movements that a robot can provide, the procedure ensures an accurate placement of implants, more consistency in measurement, better alignment, and a significant decrease in implant and bone friction. MAKO improves the outcome of these surgeries, thus ensuring a better quality of life for the patient.
ROBOT ASSISTED GAIT TRAINING
The rehabilitation process after a stroke is a crucial component of getting the patient back to a better quality of life. In order for stroke recovery patients to achieve maximum rehabilitation, the activities that require repetitive body movements, such as walking, must be performed regularly. This is where the professional help of physiotherapists and the Robotic Gait Trainer become especially important. The amount of effort involved in regaining ambulation can be very challenging for patients, especially when repetitive movement is necessary. The advantages offered by this machine include reduction in fatigue, useful feedback on training programs, successful replication of patient’s normal walking pattern, and restoration of muscle functions during training. These are extremely useful advantages for helping patients gain muscle strength and endurance, which will result in tangible improvements in their ability to get back to more independent ambulation and therefore a better quality of life.
THAILAND AS MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY HUB
Even in general terms, the more precision and control a surgeon can offer in any treatment, the better the patient outcome is expected to be. This is one major reason why Thailand’s leading hospitals continue to be early adaptors of medical robotics. In situations where delicate action is not only necessary but mandatory for the best outcome, the combination of a robot with a highly trained surgeon is the right choice for ensuring that these delicate procedures can be performed to the best advantage of the patient.
From computer- assisted diagnosis to robot- assisted surgery and full automated pharmacies and all the way through rehabilitation, the future of medical innovation continues to advance at an impressive rate. Thailand’s commitment to becoming a medical robotics hub in this region is clearly shown by the number of the Kingdom’s hospitals that offer these latest technologies. Part of the strategy for thriving in the future is strengthening the enterprises in which the country has already shown great strides. Healthcare happens to be one of those clusters, which is why the continued advancement of medical technology is one of the most important commitments made in the Thailand 4.0 plan. Bolstering the areas where there is already strength, while incubating the startups in new areas is a smart strategy for achieving the future of Thailand as envisioned by the initiative.
Sudi Narasimhan is Corporate Director of Marketing at Bumrungrad International Hospital. He can be contacted at Sudi@ bumrungrad. com.