The Art of Embracing Change

As we enter 2019, artificial intelligence and robot use in medicine has made a giant step beyond the early adoption stage. The progenitor of surgical robots, the hulking Da Vinci system for minimally invasive surgery, is nearly two decades old.

Now, newer devices, like the Axsis, which has shrunk the size of its prototype robot down to the size of a soda can, manipulate tools as small as 1.8 mm in diameter. We also have robots that can be swallowed or inserted inside the eye and don’t forget the major leaps that have taken place in the development of an artificial eye.

It’s natural that us humans feel threatened. Everyone from factory workers to physicians are left wondering if they will become obsolete. The answer, depending on who you talk to, is good, bad, or neither. Artificial intelligence and bots will be the most disruptive technology to intersect with humans since cavemen used fire.

There’s much to celebrate here. Innovations in surgical robots will enhance procedures for doctors and surgeons alike. The expertise of the surgeon remains paramount, but robotics like motion scalers and minimally invasive access may lead to better outcomes. Another possibility is new procedures made possible by robotics.

Work is already progressing in the direction with intraoperative imaging and automated anterior segment surgery with a femtosecond laser-enabled keratoplasty.

Ophthalmology robot

Robotics enables the surgeon to make precise injections

And cataract surgery assisted by a femtosecond laser has improved the safety of procedures like dense nuclei, pseudoexfoliation, and patients with Fuchs dystrophy. It’s exciting to consider how these tools will evolve in the future.

Advancements in today’s camera viewing systems allow for surgery using 3-D high-resolution monitors. Integrating OCT imagery and ultrasound can even allow procedures on structures too tiny for a surgeon’s eye to resolve.

Making machine learning work for surgeons

Artificial intelligence has enabled robots to accomplish amazing feats at superhuman speeds. When it comes to eye surgery, however, you’ll need to train it. The EventuMachine is designed to mimic complex movement patterns.

Combining cameras and OCT simultaneously, a machine can calculate the precise direction and vacuum needed to pull an epiretinal membrane; or applying vacuum to the cortical lens material.

The nature of work is bound to change for everyone. But there will never be a substitute for a surgeon who can respond in real time to a crisis. And, as of yet, there’s no program for empathy. So, embrace the new technology where it can help you overcome human limitations, and you can take part in a new world of healing.