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From Robots to 3-D: How Technology is Transforming Patient Care

Amidst political uncertainty, a shortage of healthcare workers, value-based physician payments and growing patient consumerism, a deepened need for healthcare efficiencies has emerged. Fortunately, promising technological advances are stepping up to the challenge. In this post, we’ll talk about some of our favorites.


image01What is it? Tele-surgery enables a robotic device under a surgeon’s control to operate on a patient while the surgeon is in a different location from the patient. This technology has been advancing since 2001, when surgeons in New York successfully controlled the removal of a French patient’s gall bladder remotely using a robot.

How it works. The latest experiments use Virtual Reality glasses that allow the operating physician to see the patient and the environment where the patient is located. The surgeon wears special gloves which send instructions to a robotic device that operates on the patient at the scene of an injury.

What it means for patients. In cases where a patient cannot be transported to a hospital in a timely manner, tele-surgery will greatly increase the patient’s odds of survival. With this technology, patients can get expert care no matter where they are–on the battlefield, at the scene of an accident, in a third-world country or in rural America.


What is it? 3-D printing allows the creation of a three-dimensional object by forming successive layers of material. Using MRI data and CT scans, a 3-D printer creates organs out of synthetic polymer resin. The organs have the same texture and visual appearance as human body tissue.

How it works. Using 3-D printing, manufacturers simulate rare and complex disease states in organs. 3-D printing makes research and study of organs widely available to medical students, physicians and researchers. Compared to acquiring cadavers, printing 3-D organs is faster, more affordable and more accessible.

What it means for patients. Researchers have successfully used 3-D printing to make kidney tissue that functions like human kidney tissue. With 10 percent of the world’s population affected by chronic kidney disease, artificial kidney parts are almost a reality and could save millions of lives.


What is it? Smart contact lenses are wearable digital devices that act like implants but can be inserted and removed by the user.

How it works. Companies are developing smart lenses for a variety of medical uses. Columbia University Medical Center is working on lenses that can monitor glaucoma by measuring eye curvature. Google and Novartis are working on lenses that measure glucose in diabetes patients’ tears. Additionally, they are getting ready to test lenses that correct farsightedness by instantly focusing a patient’s eyes.

What it means for patients. Patients are already using wearable technology, and these non-invasive inventions are likely to be embraced by doctors and patients alike. Smart lenses allow patients to avoid surgery and other uncomfortable procedures while doctors are presented with more reliable means of assessing and caring for patients.


What is it? Using a small tube and 3-D technology, the doctor takes a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis that shows polyps and other abnormalities inside the colon and rectum.

How it works. The process is quick and non-invasive, requires no sedation and involves inserting a small tube a few inches into the colon to inflate it with carbon dioxide for the CT scan.

What it means for patients. Already in practice, this technology saves time and eliminates recovery inconveniences. No one need drive the patient, and the patient can return immediately to work after the procedure. Because President Obama opted for this type of screening, he did not have to sign over the presidential powers during his colonoscopy.


image00What is it? Patient simulators are lifelike mannequins that can be programmed to react to a variety of different clinical situations.

How it works. School faculty programs the mannequins, and medical students practice treating the simulated patients. Based on the care provided, the patient simulators respond realistically and are capable of speaking, perspiring, breathing, bleeding and even giving birth.

What it means for patients. Patients will benefit from more experienced physicians. With more advanced professional skills and experience treating a variety of health situations prior to entering the workforce, these future doctors will be equipped to provide a better quality of care.


What is it? Augmented Reality (AR) superimposes computer-generated images on a user’s view of the real world, allowing the user to see what the environment would look like if the items in the images were actually present.

How it works. Medical tech company, Stryker, is using an augmented reality tool called Hololens from Microsoft to design the operating room of the future. Using AR, Stryker can visualize all the ways an operating room can be used without having to bring in all the real-life elements.

What it means for patients. Specifically designed to accommodate multiple disciplines, hospitals using AR to design spaces will be more efficient and able to provide patients with better, more customized care.


image02What is it? Robot assistants take many forms–from human-like to cute animals to functional boxes on wheels–that are designed to aid with a variety of tasks, allowing nurses to spend more time with patients.

How it works. Developed in Japan, Robear is a second-generation robot that is fast and responsive while providing gentler movements than its predecessor. Traveling around 12 miles per day, robots called Tugs deliver drugs, clean linens and meals and take away medical waste, dirty sheets and trash at UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay.

What it means for patients. Patients are lifted safely and comfortably in the event of a transfer or fall and receive hospital services from both nurses and the robotic assistants in a timely manner.


image03What is it? In the science fiction television show, Star Trek, the tricorder is a hand-held medical device that the physician uses in patient diagnoses. In development now, this type of instrument will be used by patients to self-monitor their health, diagnose illnesses and allow them to share the information with their physicians.

How it works. Developed by Basil Leaf Technologies, DxtER is programmed with existing clinical emergency medicine information and data analyses. It uses sensors to collect data about a patient’s vital signs, body chemistry and biological functions to diagnose the patient accordingly.

What it means for patients. Patients are already beginning to take control of their health thanks to technology. This device will help patients better understand their bodies and eliminate unnecessary doctor appointments.


Let us know about your favorite new technologies or what you think about the ones described in this post. We are on Facebook and Twitter for your convenience!

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