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July 26, 2007

Robots: the marrying kind?

At a recent conference a woman studying Health Informatics in London told me she'd seen this blog: "Oh yes, its about robots, isn't it?" Which probably means I have to make my intention clearer. Nonetheless, I can't deny a passion for them since reading about them as a child in old copies of the Eagle Annual I bought at a church jumble sale. So, at the risk of missing my intention, here are a couple of articles I spotted.

Professor Rodney Brooks talked about domestic and military robots in his RSI lecture for the British Computer Society. Prof. Brooks reckons that we are at the beginning of an exponential growth in the use of robots, partly driven by an aging Western population and our likely need for replacement body parts.

I also remember as a child reading a satirical SF book which somehow remains in my mind called Bill the Galactic Hero. Bill becomes a hapless hero when he accidentally destroys a Chinger command ship in a space battle. The Chingers are vilified by the humans who post questions on the decks of their space vessels like: "Would you let your sister marry one?" But another robot article I spotted in London's Metro might cause you to ask: "Would I be married by one?"

"Yes" is the answer of robot designer Seok Gyeong-Jae. Tiro the robot recently officiated at his wedding in South Korea.

July 23, 2007

Bots Save Money and Get You Home

health-it-rp-robot.JPGA hospital is to cut heart surgery waiting times with robot surgeons reports the Daily Telegraph. British doctors are pioneering the use of a robotic arm to carry out a life-saving heart procedure. Cardiologists at St Mary's Hospital in London are using the technology to navigate inside the heart when treating patients for a fast or irregular heartbeat. Dr Wyn Davies, consultant cardiologist, said: "With further development, this robot will enable complex procedures to be carried out almost automatically, increasing the opportunities to treat more patients and ultimately reducing clinical risk."

A study conducted at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found that robotic telerounding as a supplement to standard post-operative visits may reduce the length of stay of patients undergoing laparoscopic gastric bypass surgery.

On the first post-operative day 77 percent of patients in the group using robotic rounds were discharged compared with none in the group using exclusively bedside rounds. The mean length of stay was reduced from 2.33 days for the group assessed exclusively by bedside rounds to 1.26 days for the group assessed by robotic telerounding. Consequent early discharge from 54 beds created 71 patient-days of additional capacity, representing a total financial benefit of more than $200K.

July 22, 2007

Bionic Hand

Picture of the i-LIMB peeling a banana.Touch Bionics announced last week its i-LIMB Hand and ProDigits partial hand prostheses are available and have been successfully fitted in the United States and Europe. The i-LIMB Hand looks and acts like a real human hand and is the world's first widely available prosthetic device with five individually powered digits.

Touch Bionics says the i-LIMB Hand offers an intuitive control system that uses a traditional myoelectric signal input to open and close the hand's life-like fingers. Myoelectric controls utilize the electrical signal generated by muscles in the remaining portion of a patient's limb. This signal is picked up by electrodes that sit on the surface of the skin.

Back to the Future

Some progress in healthcare can be helped by IT and technology and some can’t.

In the mid 19th Century Ignaz Semmelweis showed handwashing reduced cases of puerperal fever among new mothers. But newly published figures for care homes in 2005 make me wonder how far we have progressed. Clostridium difficile was mentioned as a cause of death in 144 cases.

In a low tech approach to reducing the march of superbugs like MRSA and c. difficile in UK hospitals, the Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson suggests patients should ask doctors if they have washed their hands. This is yet another example of the need to inform and empower patients.

Read Death toll from 'superbugs' is soaring for some background.

July 03, 2007

Growing Patient Power

Picture of a mother and babyGoogle has set up a panel of experts to enhance its ability to respond to those of us seeking health information: Google Establishes Panel Of Health Care Experts . The ready availability of healthcare information has shifted the clinician patient relationship irrevocably. Now some doctors even encourage patients to become better informed and to challenge diagnoses.

One such is Jerome Groopman who in How Doctors Think tells of Rachel who adopted baby Shira in Vietnam. US doctors held Shira was suffering from SCID, an acronym for severe combined immonodefficiency disorder. Rachel researched SCID and was unconvinced. She thought Shira had a nutritional deficiency and insisted tests were redone. Rachel was shown to be right.

July 01, 2007


Old bicycle.Though I had Salvador Dalí posters plastered to my bedroom walls at University, my passion for his work cooled. However a visit to the Dalí & Film exhibition at London's Tate Modern has warmed it again.

I was particularly engaged by Destino a short film sketched out by Dalí and Disney in 1946 and only completed in 2003 after both of them had died. It's a blend of Dalí and Disney clichés: ants that morph into Sisyphean cyclists carrying rocks on their heads and two chiseled lovers separated by walls are reconnected by flocks of birds.

With his friend Luis Buñuel, Dalí also created the visceral and influential surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. The film's weird(est) actor resembles Buster Keaton, perhaps not surprisingly because Dalí and Buñuel loved the silent comedies.

Keaton also made Electric House about the havoc wreaked when modern technology is installed in an old house...(!)