Robotics And AI For Teleoperation Tele-assessment And Tele-training For Surgery In The Era Of COVID-19 Existing Challenges And Future Vision

The unprecedented shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has severely influenced the delivery of regular healthcare services. Most non-urgent medical activities, including elective surgeries, have been paused to mitigate the risk of infection and to dedicate medical resources to managing the pandemic. In this regard, not only surgeries are substantially influenced, but also pre- and post-operative assessment of patients and training for surgical procedures have been significantly impacted due to the pandemic. Many countries are planning a phased reopening, which includes the resumption of some surgical procedures. However, it is not clear how the reopening of safe-practice guidelines will impact the quality of healthcare delivery. This perspective article evaluates the use of robotics and AI in (a) robotics-assisted surgery, (b) tele-examination of patients for pre- and post-surgery, and (c) tele-training for surgical procedures. Surgeons interact with a large number of staff and patients on a daily basis. Thus, the risk of infection transmission between them raises concerns. In addition, pre- and post-operative assessment also raises concerns about increasing the risk of disease transmission, in particular, since many patients may have other underlying conditions, which can increase their chances of mortality due to the virus. The pandemic has also limited the time and access that trainee surgeons have for training in the OR and/or in the presence of an expert. In this article, we describe existing challenges and possible solutions and suggest future research directions that may be relevant for robotics and AI in addressing the three tasks mentioned above.