AI in healthcare: the rise of robotics in rehabilitation and surgery

AI in healthcare: the rise of robotics in rehabilitation and surgery


A data-driven future is on healthcares horizon with ninety percent of NHS jobs set to require digital skills in the next twenty years.

Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) could save 5.7m hours of GPs time across the country, according to a recent report led by Dr Eric Topol, Founder of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and Cardiologist at The Scripps Research Institute.

Artificial intelligence is a sub-category of computer science where machines are programmed or simulated to imitate human intelligence in terms of decision-making, speech-recognition, photo manipulation and other visualisation applications.

Rehabilitative robots, dissection devices for eye surgery and Virtual Reality (VR) are some technologies being trialled across UK surgeries, in a new, more holistic, approach to healthcare. Dr Jasmina Kapetanovic, from the University of Oxford and Oxford Eye Hospital, Professor Robert Stone of the University of Birmingham and Harriet Gridley of No Isolation start-up, spoke to’ KCW Today’ about their developments in robotic surgical procedures, interest in the rehabilitative capabilities of this new technology and how it could reintroduce chronically ill children into educational settings.

The Royal Marsden Hospital is the worlds first institution dedicated to cancer diagnosis, research and education. It  has performed over three thousand robotic procedures, with fourteen surgeons qualified in this type of surgery. Their Robotic Surgery Fellowship will train up to thirty multi-disciplinary surgeons in robotic surgery over the next ten years, transforming the UKs current surgical training programme.

Professor Vinidh Paleri, Consultant Head and Neck Surgeon at the hospital claimed the da Vinci robot used at their practice reduces a twelve hour operation for open surgery of the neck or head to two hours.

He said: Patients can be home in three days rather than two weeks, and they are saved from having visible scars.

Open surgery has also seen surgeons retire early due to wrist, shoulder, or back problems so the robot allows surgeons to have a longer working life, according to the hospital.

Professor Robert Stone, is Chair in Interactive Multimedia Systems within the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

He is interested in using Virtual Reality (VR) to support patient recovery after a traumatic injury. VR is an interactive, computer-generated experience taking place in a simulated, sensory environment through a headset and cycling machine. Virtual environments are now being found to achieve the same psycho-physiological effects of enhanced wellbeing in naturally restorative environments.

In a new software called Virtual Wembury, Professor Stone digitally recreates views of Devon for patients in a headset or television screen. Other computer-generated environments include the Northern Lights and mountain views.

At present, the technology is available in seven hospitals including Queen Elizabeth in Birmingham and Belfast City. It is a self-contained process of plug and playand requires minimal staff training, funded by The Royal College for Defence Medicines.

He said: We put a patient at Torbay Hospital on the Motor-Med Virtual Beach cycling and I lost track of how many miles he did; his smile was incredible.

His wife said thank you for making his last days worthwhile.

Professor Stone claimed that once [VR] becomes mature and widespread; then it will become prescribable.

This has also been used in palliative care by Professor Stone and his Human Interface Technologies Team (HIT);  collaborating with palliative care specialists to create VR locations which can be edited easily and meet the needs of myriad healthcare issues. Some patients can get very mentally fatigued by absorbing themselves in the headsets so Stone and clinicians adjusts the number of features in the experience.

For example, a medieval catapult is added to the Wembury VR for those recovering from gastro-intestinal illness. This encourages them to improve their lung capacity by breathing longer into a Spirometer which catapults virtual stones in the headset.

Jasmina Kapetanovic, Clinical Research Fellow and Fellow in Vitreo-Retinal Surgery, specialises in Ophthalmology, and is interested in how the robotic system can assist in precision eye surgery.

She works closely with Robert MacLaren, Professor of Ophthalmology, at the Oxford Eye Hospital

who is carrying out the second trial of the Robotic Retinal Dissection Device; acting as a mechanical hand for precision surgery. It has been developed using Preceyes BV, Dutch medical robotics firm established by the University of Eindhoven. Coupling the motion controller used by the surgeon and microsurgical instruments, the manual and robotic create a hybrid system.

Kapetanovic said: “If the surgery is robot assisted, it can overcome any human error; the patient’s movement which you cannot predict.”

It is designed to eliminate unwanted tremors or movements in the surgeon’s hand which complements and assists their skills, rather than replacing them.The device ‘simplifies’ the set up of the operating room; proving groundbreaking for greater ease and speed in operations for the delicate eye organ. It can be used for robotic surgery under local anaesthetic and surgeons have been trained in its usage, which was not possible in the 2016 trial.

She did, however, point out the importance of training to get everyone on board with the evolving computer technology.

This medical trial is sponsored by the University of Oxford and funded by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre with support from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

No Isolation is a new start up helping to reconnect the chronically ill with their peers, through their AY1 Robot. This is a distance learning avatarwhich means the child can engage with the teachers and school friends from home. It helps reintegrate children back into the classroom after suffering a prolonged illness which has kept them out of education; cancer, anxiety and cerebral palsy to name a few.The robot sits in the classroom and the child can remotely control it through an app; turning it around with a swipe of the iPad and able to see the teacher or friends through The robots camera. Emotion can be adjusted through the app and expressed in the robot’s eyes and also make its head flash if they want to ask the teacher a question.

Harriet Gridley, Head of Business Development UK at No Isolation, said: “This compassionate technology is something which enables human contact, rather than replaces it.

“The [child’s] friends would not know how to interact with them; it is really difficult even as adults to support someone going through a difficult illness.

“But because its through this friendly interface, it makes it really easy and lowers the threshold for human impact.”

The initiative created by the Department for Education is on its second edition; the child user did not want to be seen, so the start-up introduced a screen on the bot and in the second, LED eyes were introduced, because the classmates wanted to know how their friend was feeling. They can pick a variety of expressions.

Harriet Gridley, Head of Business Development UK at No Isolation, revealed how the start-up’s commitment to helping people out of loneliness  that in the future they could create products for first-time parents or ‘perhaps people in the city which are more lonely than anyone else’ .

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