As students, some of us may be in a constant state of frenzy over whether our careers will be overtaken by robots. Well, the plague has officially began overtaking the healthcare industry as we know it.

Every year more than 4,000 people are injured undergoing surgery due to human error. Surgeries, specifically spinal implant procedures, leave patients with severe bleeding and long recovery times. In fact, post-surgical pain is oftentimes reported as being more severe than it was pre-surgery. But with the assistance of robots, we can actually begin to improve the efficacy of surgeries and post-surgical pain.

Robots are much more precise and require smaller incisions to complete procedures. This does not mean that humans are not involved in the process. Surgeons are sitting behind computer screens and monitoring the procedure using a video camera attached to the robot’s arm, and controlling the robot as needed. Companies such as Intuitive Surgical and Globus Medical are streamlining efforts to be at the forefront of creating robots that aid in such minimally invasive procedures. While procedures such as breast mastectomies (removal of breast tissue) and hysterectomies (removal of the uterus) are still preferred to be done by humans, robots are beginning to take over spinal surgeries entirely.

The spinal surgery market is going to be driven by the fact that people require more spinal implants. As countries are becoming more industrialized, sedentary lifestyles are becoming more prominent due to bad posture from sitting all day. Because of this, 20% of Americans develop scoliosis, which oftentimes requires spinal implant surgeries. Additionally, the world population is aging. The number of people over 65-years-old will exceed the number of people below 18-years-old by 2035, which is truly a never-before-seen feat. Due to the rise in aging population, chronic back pains have risen by 24% in the past decade, as spinal problems are age-related.

As more people are opting for spinal surgeries, the rise in artificial intelligence will aid in broadening the applications of robots for minimally invasive procedures. The $60B artificial intelligence market is the root cause of software developments that allow for a robot to acquire a human-like brain during operations. As of 2017, the number of surgical procedures rose by 15% globally, due to people’s increased trust of and declining fear of surgeries. And for this, we can thank the robots for inducing the minimally invasive procedures.

The main risk factor in the robotic space is the slowing usage of robots due to the lack of surgeons able to be overlook the surgeries. It’s argued that more surgeons will be required to be present at surgeries when robots are handling the procedure, as more human brains need to be attentive to what’s happening behind the robot’s movements. Utilizing such equipment in the surgery room also requires extensive training. However, companies such as Global Medical having simplified training programs in place to make sure that robots really are the face of the future.

By Alice Karetsky - Healthcare Analyst, Baruch IMG and David Jejelava - Healthcare Director, Baruch IMG