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How Advances in AI and Robotic Surgery Will Affect Nurses and APPs

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in surgery has been growing for several decades. During the last 14 years in the United States, patients have undergone 1.75 million robotic surgical procedures. As advances in both AI and robotics continue to impact healthcare, the roles of nurses and advanced practice providers (APPs) may shift in the future. 

The Impact of Robotics on Surgery 

Overall, robotics is enabling surgeons to be more precise, less invasive and more patient-specific than ever before, according to Benjamin Domb, MD, founder and surgeon at the American Hip Institute. For instance, using a robotic arm during surgery enhances the accuracy of the human eye and provides more control over every position and movement.

“We are able to measure to the millimeter when positioning the hip replacement, minimizing risks of leg length discrepancies, dislocations and other complications,” Domb tells Florence Health. “We have published multiple studies on the outcomes of robotics showing as much as a 94 percent reduction in inaccuracies.”

The benefits for patients from integrating robotics into surgery, including minimal scarring and faster recovery time, are obvious, but there are benefits for staff, too — namely less exposure to dangerous radiation. For example, the Corindus Corpath allow clinicians to insert a cardiac catheter under imaging while remaining outside of the X-ray energy field, Roger Smith, PhD, MBA, chief technology officer at the AdventHealth Nicholson Center, tells Florence Health.

“The use of robots … [reduces] the prevalence of cancer that is an unfortunate side effect of delivering image-based treatments for decades,” Smith explains.

The Impact of AI on Surgery 

From improving training to making it easier to share knowledge, AI is also having an enormous impact on surgery. It can enhance the overall decision-making process. AI can analyze large data sets quickly, so healthcare teams can make treatment plans and evaluate patients before surgery in a faster manner.

Thanks to AI, advances in computer vision are already radically changing the way healthcare providers find tumors and visualize operations. For example, researchers at Thomas Jefferson University developed an AI algorithm that detects cancerous thyroid growths with 90 percent accuracy. In some cases, robots and AI are being combined to make devices that are more intelligent.

“The Cleveland Clinic is training an AI neural network on all of their existing patient records around spinal surgical procedures,” Smith says. “Once trained, the network can accept data about a specific patient’s case and output a recommendation for the best type of treatment for that condition. The network is learning from thousands of previous cases, what treatment was applied and the outcome achieved.”

AI can help doctors, nurses and APPs make better decisions that affect patient care. One of the advantages of using AI is that it can find connections and relationships that a human mind can miss or simply can’t process.

The Future for Nurses and APPs 

Robotics and AI can relieve nurses and APPs from work that is repetitive, boring or dangerous so they can take on bigger responsibilities.

According to Smith, the da Vinci surgical robot is a good example of how things may change. A human surgeon controls four of the robot’s instrument arms. One of these holds the endoscopic camera, while the others hold surgical instruments like scissors, retractors and needle drivers. Previously, holding the scope was the job of a surgical nurse or other allied health professional. It’s a tedious job but essential for the procedure. Now, these staff members are free for other tasks.

“The next generation of nurses needs to be comfortable working with both human patients and robot assistants. Those who understand how to work in partnership with a robot will be much better equipped to add value as hospitals adopt these devices,” Smith says.

New skills and fewer jobs? 

Domb believes that AI and robotics will create additional job positions for nurses, APPs and other surgical team members, not remove them. From managing the robotic systems to evaluating data generated by AI, nurses and APPs may find themselves needing new skills.

But human interaction will remain central to the job. In fact, the driving force behind many technological advancements is giving back to nurses and APPs the time they spent with patients before barrages of administrative demands. Just look at Moxi, invented by Austin, Texas-based Diligent Robotics, which can drop of lab specimens for analysis and run other errands. Users can even hook it up to the EHR to reduce nurses’ workload even further, Fast Company reports.

“Most future projections cite a significant increase in demand for healthcare services and a significant shortage of clinicians,” Smith points out. “Robots and AI are one part of the solution to this imbalance in supply and demand.”

And there is one thing that no amount of advanced technology can replace: The personal touch that humans provide. The compassionate and complex care that nurses and APPs bring to their jobs every day can’t be replaced with a cold robot. 


Adverse Events in Robotic Surgery: A Retrospective Study of 14 Years of FDA Data, PLoS One. 

How Researchers Are Using AI to Improve Thyroid Cancer Diagnosis, Philadelphia Magazine.  

A hospital introduced a robot to help nurses. They didn’t expect it to be so popular, Fast Company.

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