“Po­ten­tial for AI and ro­bot­ics in health­care is vast”

BioSpectrum (Asia) - - Bio Content - Kuldeep Singh Rajput, Founder and CEO, Bio­four­mis Pte Ltd.

Med­i­cal ro­bot­ics is a fast grow­ing and rapidly in­no­vat­ing space, ma­jorly fu­elled by en­hance­ment of au­to­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies, ris­ing in­ci­dence of dis­abil­i­ties in hu­man be­ings and in­creased in­ci­dence of age re­lated phys­i­cal ail­ments in the baby boomer pop­u­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Global Med­i­cal Ro­bot­ics Re­port, Asia Pa­cific med­i­cal ro­botic sys­tems mar­ket is also ex­pected to grow at the fastest rate ever dur­ing the fore­cast pe­riod (2016-2022), due to un­tapped mar­ket/op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Re­cently, a Singapore-based data an­a­lyt­ics com­pany Bio­four­mis raised US$5 mil­lion (S$6.8 mil­lion) in a Se­ries A round of fund­ing from ven­ture cap­i­tal firm NSI Ven­tures and Aviva Ven­tures. Bio­four­mis has cre­ated a health an­a­lyt­ics plat­form known as biovi­tals, which lever­ages ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to an­a­lyse phys­i­ol­ogy data from clinical grade wear­ables. The data gleaned from this al­lows med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als to in­ter­vene be­fore a crit­i­cal med­i­cal event takes place, which can po­ten­tially im­prove health out­comes and lower health­care costs. In an in­ter­ac­tion with BioSpec­trum Asia, Kuldeep Singh Rajput, founder and CEO, Bio­four­mis Pte Ltd., shared how AI and ro­bot­ics are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing an in­te­gral part of the health­care ecosys­tem, and what are the in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties cre­ated as a re­sult.

Edited ex­perts:

How is ro­bot­ics tech­nol­ogy ef­fec­tive in fill­ing health­care gaps?

Ro­bots are ev­ery­where from sci­ence fic­tion to the lo­cal hos­pi­tals, where they are chang­ing health­care. Ro­bots in medicine help by re­liev­ing med­i­cal per­son­nel from rou­tine tasks that take their time away from more press­ing re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and by mak­ing the med­i­cal pro­ce­dures safer and less costly for pa­tients. Surgery is an un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence at best. The wait­ing lists can be long depend­ing on avail­able man­power and re­sources. Sur­gi­cal Ro­bots help to al­le­vi­ate this prob­lem. They are ca­pa­ble of per­form­ing ac­cu­rate surgery in tiny places. Ro­bots are used in as­sist­ing a surgery, al­low­ing doc­tors to con­duct surgery through tiny in­ci­sion in­stead of an inches long in­ci­sion. The sur­geon is in com­plete con­trol of the sys­tem al­ways, how­ever as the ma­chine has greater reach and flex­i­bil­ity, smaller in­ci­sions made with more pre­ci­sion are enough to ac­cess the prob­lem ar­eas.

There is in­cred­i­ble op­por­tu­nity for the ro­bot­ics tech­nol­ogy to help fill care gaps and aid health­care work­ers. Ro­bots can pro­vide both phys­i­cal and cog­ni­tive task sup­port for both Data Re­port­ing Unit (DRUs) and clin­i­cians/ care­givers, and may be ef­fec­tive and help­ing re­duce cog­ni­tive load. Task as­sis­tance is par­tic­u­larly crit­i­cal as the de­mand for health­care ser­vices is far out­pac­ing avail­able re­sources, which places great strain on clin­i­cians and care­givers. They can be used to dis­in­fect pa­tient’s rooms and op­er­at­ing suites, re­duc­ing risk for pa­tients and med­i­cal per­son­nel.

How dif­fi­cult is the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of ro­bot­ics tech­nol­ogy in health­care? What are the in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties cre­ated as a re­sult?

The health­care in­dus­try strug­gles from the com­bined pres­sure of sky­rock­et­ing costs, ag­ing pop­u­la­tions in in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries, and a short­age of qualified work­ers, as well as the need to con­tin­u­ously im­prove the qual­ity of ser­vices and re­sults. For ev­ery chal­lenge faced by the health­care com­mu­nity, how­ever, there are mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties for busi­nesses pro­fes­sion­als, aca­demi­cians and in­vestors that pro­vide in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions. Ro­bot­ics and au­to­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy — health­care ro­bot­ics — are one class of so­lu­tion. De­spite the mon­u­men­tal po­ten­tial of the tech­nol­ogy and ob­vi­ous need, com­mer­cial devel­op­ment of health­care ro­botic prod­ucts has been rel­a­tively slow and mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion has been min­i­mal.

I also see vir­tual ro­bots, e.g. chat-bots and vir­tual nurses emerging for re­mote pa­tient mon­i­tor­ing and man­age­ment. At Bio­four­mis, we are us­ing AI and vir­tual nurses to as­sist pa­tients to man­age their com­plex chronic con­di­tions. Health an­a­lyt­ics has been one of the hottest cat­e­gory of in­vest­ment since 2016.

How safe is the use of ro­bot­ics in the op­er­a­tion theatre? Are they cost-ef­fec­tive? Will they re­place sur­geons in fu­ture?

A study has re­vealed that ro­botic surgery was in­volved in 144 deaths and 1,391 in­juries in the US dur­ing a 14-year pe­riod. While this may seem a cause for con­cern, con­sid­er­ing there were 1.7 mil­lion oper­a­tions car­ried out dur­ing the same pe­riod, this is very few in­deed. Ro­bots de­signed for surgery have three main ad­van­tages over hu­mans. They have greater three­d­i­men­sional spa­tial ac­cu­racy, are more re­li­able, and can achieve much greater pre­ci­sion. Safety is a key con­cern. A ro­botic de­vice can be de­signed in an in­trin­si­cally safe way by re­strict­ing its range of move­ment to an area where it can do no dam­age. Fur­ther­more, safety can be in­creased by mak­ing it pas­sive, guided al­ways by a sur­geon.

The mar­ket lead­ing de­vice is the Da Vinci, man­u­fac­tured by In­tu­itive Sur­gi­cal, sales of which have rapidly risen de­spite the lat­est model’s £1.7 mil­lion price tag and an­nual main­te­nance costs of £150,000. Be­tween 2007 and 2011, the num­ber of Da Vinci ro­bots in use in the US in­creased from 800 to 1,400, while the num­ber world­wide reached 2,300 in 2011. There are around 50 in the UK. I do not think that hu­man sur­geons will be re­placed by ro­bots in the near fu­ture. Sur­geons are at the top of the med­i­cal food chain. Ro­bots do not have the re­spon­si­bil­ity. A hu­man will al­ways con­trol the process be­cause of pos­si­bil­ity of po­ten­tial com­pli­ca­tions. Surgery is not like a pro­duc­tion line, where a ma­chine can fol­low the same set of in­struc­tions and come up with the same out­come ev­ery time. Ev­ery hu­man body is dif­fer­ent, and even with the most ad­vanced imag­ing tech­nol­ogy we have avail­able there are still things that you only see once the body has been opened. You need some­one who can think, make de­ci­sions and weigh op­tions, and the kind of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) that could do that at the level of a hu­man sur­geon is a long way away.

AI and ro­bot­ics are in­creas­ingly a part of our health­care eco-sys­tem. How is this trans­for­ma­tion cur­rently un­der­way?

The emer­gence and in­creas­ing use of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ro­bot­ics will have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on health­care sys­tems around the world. AI is get­ting in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated at do­ing what hu­mans do, but more ef­fi­ciently, more quickly and at a lower cost. The po­ten­tial for both AI and ro­bot­ics in health­care is vast. Just like in our ev­ery-day lives, AI and ro­bot­ics are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a part of our health­care ecosys­tem. One of the AI’s big­gest po­ten­tial ben­e­fits is to help peo­ple to stay healthy so that they don’t need a doc­tor, or at least not so of­ten. AI in­creases the abil­ity for health­care pro­fes­sion­als to bet­ter un­der­stand the day to day pat­terns and needs of the peo­ple they care for, and with that un­der­stand­ing they are able to pro­vide bet­ter feed­back, guid­ance and sup­port for stay­ing healthy. AI is al­ready be­ing used to de­tect dis­eases like can­cer, more ac­cu­rately and in their early stages.

A STUDY HAS RE­VEALED THAT RO­BOTIC SURGERY WAS IN­VOLVED IN 144 DEATHS AND 1,391 IN­JURIES IN THE US DUR­ING A 14-YEAR PE­RIOD. WHILE THIS MAY SEEM A CAUSE FOR CON­CERN, CON­SID­ER­ING

THERE WERE 1.7 MIL­LION OPER­A­TIONS CAR­RIED OUT DUR­ING THE SAME PE­RIOD, THIS

IS VERY FEW IN­DEED.

Kuldeep Singh Rajput,Founder and CEO, Bio­four­mis Pte Ltd.

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