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Emily A.

Covington
9408 W. 106
th
St., Overland Park, KS 66212
(318) 578-1156
ecovington@kumc.edu
Is robot-assisted anesthesia effective or merely a gimmick?
In the past few decades we have seen many technological advancements. As an
anesthesia provider technology is constantly integrated into my daily routine. Healthcare
miracles would be unimaginable without technology. How do we separate efficient
advancements from wasteful innovations? The majority of these developments create the need to
celebrate. However, the newest toy is not always the better, safer, or cheaper option.
According to Callahan (2008), healthcare costs are climbing at an alarming rate. The
development of new medical technology contributes 50% to our annual cost (Callahan, 2008).
Telehealth is the use of technology to deliver health care, health information or health education
at a distance (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012). The Centers for Medicare
& Medicaid Services view telehealth services as a cost-effective alternative to traditional health
care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2012). After reviewing numerous trials
comparing telemedicine to face-to-face care, the outcomes revealed no evidence of cost
effectiveness or clinical benefits (Currell, Urquhart, Wainwright, & Lewis, 2010). In 2008,
Canadian Researchers developed an automated anesthesia robot or teleanesthesia, given the
name McSleepy (Hughes, 2011). Dr. Thomas Hemmerling says that McSleepy is a humanoid
anesthesiologist and is actually better in terms of stability of anesthesia than us at this point
(Hughes, 2011). Does Hemmerlings insight on the future of anesthesia promote both patient
safety and cost effectiveness?
Hemmerling declares that McSleepy may contribute a decrease in anesthesia costs by
approximately 25%, making surgery more affordable (Hughes, 2011). How can we guarantee
this 25% decreased surgical cost when there is a lack of evidence that McSleepy is truly cost
effective? Hemmerling suggests that teleanesthesia provided by McSleepy is not only
innovative, but also capable of providing care superior to that of a living anesthesiologist
(Hughes, 2011). Therefore, I bet you are wondering, what happens if McSleepy breaks down
while providing your anesthesia. Personally, I believe a living, breathing anesthesia provider
would intervene, resolve the problem, and more importantly, save your life.
As I mentioned earlier without technology healthcare would lack those incredible stories
you hear or read about in the media. There is certainly a need for technology advancements, but
a robot administering and managing my anesthesia leaves me quite skeptical. McSleepy, with the
supervision of an anesthesia provider, sounds like a more viable and successful treatment option.
However, the question still remains, is this approach truly cost effective or necessary?
I am hesitant to believe that robot-assisted anesthesia care has the capability to perform
tasks equal to a highly educated human being. Every individual receiving anesthesia is unique.
Many require clinical expertise of a human provider to maintain their safety. With recent
surgical robotic innovations, healthcare providers are finding that not every patient qualifies. If
the future of anesthesia relies on robot-assisted care, the art of anesthesia will be lost. And
individuals not fitting into the typical textbook definition category will be at an increased risk.
Over the next few years, I recommend keeping a close eye on your legislation and proposed bills
regarding telehealth and teleanesthesia. I will conclude by asking you, is the expense of
purchasing and maintaining an automated anesthesia system creating any benefits for you?

References
Callahan, D. (2008). Health care costs and medical technology. In M. Crowley (Ed.), From birth
to death and bench to clinic: The Hastings Center bioethics briefing book for journalists,
policymakers, and campaigns (pp. 79-82). Garrison, NY: The Hastings Center.
Currell, R., Urquhart, C., Wainwright, P., Lewis, R. (2010). Telemedicine versus face to face
patient care: Effects on professional practice and health care outcomes. Cochrane
Database of Systematic Reviews, (2), 1-34. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002098
Hughes, D. J. (2011). McSleepy advances: Automated anesthesia and natural orifice
transuluminal endoscopic surgery. The Surgical Technologist, 351-357. Retrieved from
http://venus.ast.org/publications/Journal%20Archive/2011/8_August_2011/CE.pdf
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
(2012). Telehealth services: Rural health fact sheet series (Internal Control No. 901705).
Retrieved from http://www.cms.gov/Outreach-and-Education/Medicare-Learning-
Network-MLN/MLNProducts/downloads/TelehealthSrvcsfctsht.pdf