Advanced computer power has been transforming healthcare on what seems like an almost daily basis. In this article, we explore some of the latest advancements related to areas such as robotics, medical imaging, and more, as well as other exciting possibilities for the future.
Increasingly sophisticated computers and robotics are being applied to a whole range of medical functions. From what is happening now to what could be changing on the horizon, the following are some highlights of what many are getting excited about:
Medical Imaging and Computer-Aided Diagnosis
The ability of computers to process images to make them clearer, combine images, and make three-dimensional models out of two-dimensional x-rays has made a sea-change difference in the way doctors can visualize the body to diagnose and strategize treatment.
Advances in medical imaging have been the impetus for the field of computer-aided diagnosis (CAD). The focus is to use computer images and associated artificial intelligence not as a primary diagnosis, but as a "second opinion."
CAD systems are being employed to assist in the early diagnosis of breast cancer, detection of lung nodules, early signs of fracturing in the vertebrae that would lead to osteoporosis, and detection of intracranial aneurysms.
Resources to learn more about computer-aided diagnosis:
- A Learning Healthcare System Using Computer-Aided Diagnosis
- A historical perspective on computer-aided diagnosis in medical imaging
- Slides from a presentation, Computer-Aided Diagnosis: Concepts and Applications, given by doctors from the University of Michigan
- Computer-Aided Diagnosis - Medical Image Analysis Techniques
Computer technology has enabled exploration into options once thought impossible. Not only are prosthetic limbs designed to be more comfortable and mechanically more capable, but using microprocessor technology in prosthetics allows amputees to learn to control prosthetic limbs using their own peripheral nerves.
Artificial limbs are prostheses shaped like a hand, foot, leg, or arm. In some cases, arm and hand or leg and foot are part of a single device while, at other times, it is preferred to create two single pieces. With practice, the amputee can think about the movement to send signals to appropriate muscles and direct the artificial limb to move. The artificial silicone limbs, if done well, are similar to the natural ones, and this is fundamental to treat and support the psychological aspect of the amputee patient.
Artificial legs are made with microprocessor-controlled hydraulic knees that allow amputees to play sports, dance, and live active lives. Artificial limbs use the avant-garde technologies that enable them to move like natural ones, that is, manipulated by the brain and not by the stump muscle. With traditional artificial limbs, the person, to perform a simple movement, must think of moving his limb part and the applied one will move by mechanics, by transport. Robotic limbs, on the other hand, will allow the person who wears them to perform fluid and unconscious movements, as if he/she did not have any kind of disability.
Advanced computer systems have enabled medical science to advance the dream of restoring function to people crippled with spinal cord injury.
A computer that translates the signals from the brain and relays signals to the stimulator can help the patients with a spinal cord injury to walk. The brain-computer interface by-passes the damaged spinal cord and sends signals directly to the leg muscles. With a few weeks of training, the patient learned to use his brain waves to control his leg muscles.
To use the system, the patient wears a computer-backpack that sends brain signals to a nearby desktop computer. The system begins working when he begins, "thinking about walking." He is also able to stop walking or pause the automatic stepping process.
We are just at the beginning of a new era of robotics in healthcare. Using robots, caretakers can interact with patients, check on their condition, even take blood samples.
Robots are serving as the eyes and ears of medical professionals in remote locations. Patients in remote locations can have access to high-quality emergency consultations in instances of stroke, cardiovascular, or emergency services.
Moreover, Telemedicine is envisaged as a possible response to the main public health problems currently facing. Far from being a substitute for traditional medical practices, telemedicine can facilitate people's access to local health care, address the shortage of medical staff, and strengthen the missions of isolated institutions.
Remote monitoring helps to keep people in a situation of dependency longer in their homes. Time savings and the decongestion of medical practices are the main benefits.
Patients with chronic diseases requiring continuity and follow-up care can be supported by telemedicine. It is faced with the sharp increase of these diseases linked to the aging of the people; telemedicine helps to contain the social and financial mobilization of the health system that they require.
Surgical robots do not make decisions. They are under the precise control of the surgeon at all times. However, they can serve as a kind of movement microscope.
The machine has greater reach and flexibility than the surgeon. Surgical robots can translate the normal-sized movements of the surgeon into smaller, precise motion to make smaller incisions with greater precision. The surgeon can view the operation through high magnification and control his or her motion on a sub-microscopic scale.
Robots can undertake many tasks that are too dangerous for people. Some of the companies have been producing a robot that can disinfect spaces in healthcare facilities using high-intensity ultraviolet light. This method of disinfection causes more cell damage to microorganisms than any other device used for disinfection. It has reduced the number of hospital-acquired infections.
Some robots on a subminiature scale come in a capsule. When the capsule is swallowed, the robot unfolds itself. It is controlled by medical professionals with the use of magnetic fields. The robot can patch up wounds in the stomach lining or remove different items from the stomach, avoiding surgery. And nanobots are being developed that can mimic white blood cells to destroy bacteria and other infections.