Welcome to the new Outpatient Surgery website! Check out our login FAQs.
Behind Closed Doors: Where No Nurse Has Gone Before
Is the OR of the future a dream or a nightmare?
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: February 4, 2015   |  Tags:   Opinion

Regular readers of this column know that technology creeps me out. Like everyone, though, without my smartphone and computer I'm kind of lost in space. I'm convinced it won't be long before my job, and yours, is replaced by robots. How do you feel about the OR of this future?

More than meets the eye
Automated electrical wheelchairs chit-chat with patients as they're transported from the waiting room into pre-op, where Randy the Robot scans their patient bracelets — bar-coded with encyclopedic medical records — assigns them to patient bays and effortlessly lifts them onto stretchers. The side rails go up and the monitoring scan begins as soon as the patient's tuchus hits the mattress. Randy's vein-finding vision means the IV is in before the patient can say "Get me out of here!"

The stretcher is another intelligent being. It rolls into the first available OR when signaled, then transforms into a surgical table. A sterile mechanical arms sprays the skin at the site with a fluorescent green "kills everything" solution and plops an anesthesia mask over the nose and mouth.

The surgical robot that's doing the cutting and stitching isn't actually autonomous. You can rest assured that a human being is operating it remotely: your doc himself, who's at his tropical vacation home. There's no rest for the circulator, though. She's real and she's in the room, ready to troubleshoot and reboot the quirks they still haven't worked out of the electronic equipment. Even in the future, her scrubs still don't quite fit.

After the procedure, old-fashioned whole-room disinfection robots turn over the room without the need for human contact. I must warn you, though, another robot roams the hallways to Taser the carbon-based life forms who failed to sufficiently stock the dispensing machines with supplies. It's their version of a sticky note.

The stretcher that rolls the patient out to PACU gradually converts into an upright sitting position during the course of a predetermined recovery period, then tilts forward to dump the patient into the pleasantly chatty wheelchair to the discharge door.

Meet the new boss
For the humans who remain on board, technology will be the new management in charge. Imagine retina-scanning security to access everything, even the bathroom. Been working all day without a break? Scan your urine-yellow eyes and the door will unlock. A robo-charge-nurse knows where you are and how long you've been there.

Thanks to those popular fitness-tracker bracelets, we have a wealth of real-time health information at (or rather, near) our fingertips. But these handy little monitors, once networked to a satellite-supported verification system, could make calling out sick a thing of the past. The 3-D printer is an interesting concept, but what if the robots got a hold of it and started printing duplicate copies of themselves, or you?

Brave new world
An OR nurse friend of mine recently remarked, after a trying day, that she wished she had time to actually be a caregiver instead of just feeling like an interactive kiosk. I guess there are tasks that we human nurses could farm out to technology, but it makes you wonder whether technology will take the human factor out of the patient care equation. It's an important consideration: Our favorite sci-fi robots appear to have feelings. Anyway, I hope they at least have better taste in OR music.