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

Robotics and AI can assist with a large portion of typical nursing and APP tasks — but that doesn’t mean these roles will become obsolete. Here’s why.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in surgery have 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 AI and robotics continue to impact healthcare, the roles of nurses and advanced practice providers (APPs) may shift.

The Impact of Robotics on Surgery

Robotics enables 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 says. “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. Still, there are benefits for staff, too, namely less exposure to dangerous radiation. For example, the Corindus Corpath allows clinicians to insert a cardiac catheter under imaging while remaining outside of the X-ray energy field, says Roger Smith, Ph.D., MBA, chief technology officer at the AdventHealth Nicholson Center. “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 has 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 faster. Thanks to AI, advances in computer vision are already radically changing how 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% accuracy. In some cases, robots and AI combine to make more intelligent devices.

“The Cleveland Clinic is training an AI neural network on all 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 learns 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 can’t process.

The Future of Nurses and APPs

Robotics and AI can relieve nurses and APPs from repetitive, boring, or dangerous work so they can take on more significant responsibilities. According to Smith, the daVinci surgical robot is an excellent example of how things may change. A human surgeon controls four of the robot’s instrument arms. One 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 another 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. Nurses and APPs may need new skills, from managing robotic systems to evaluating AI-generated data.

But human interaction will remain central to the job. 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 off lab specimens for analysis and run other errands. Users can even hook it up to the EHR to reduce nurses’ workload 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.”

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.

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