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In’n’Out: Autonomous Robotic Vascular Access

By 28 February, 2020 March 17th, 2020 No Comments

Deep learning robotic guidance for autonomous vascular access can change healthcare as we know it.

Every year approximately 4 billion needles are inserted into people’s veins. One of the most common procedures for testing or administering treatment to a patient requires a needle insertion into the vein – blood tests, intravenous treatment, chemotherapy, and blood transfusions among many others. Typically, the skill to perform this procedure is often exclusive to experienced medical professionals, not always working under the best conditions or with the calmest patients.

A recent prototype robot, utilising deep learning, is able to perform these procedures autonomously and with a higher success rate. Injecting a needle is certainly no easy task, especially if a person has tortuous or collapsed vessels (veins with a diameter less than 1mm), the first-stick success rate is only 57 percent when performed by medical professionals.The robot presents with a promising first-stick success rate of over 80 percent. 

Albeit the prototype robot seems rather unwieldy in its current form, such a development provides a glimpse into the future of healthcare.

The device uses near-infrared optical imaging and ultrasound imaging to identify a suitable vein for vascular access. The near-infrared imaging “provides non-contact visualisation of superficial vessels” while the ultrasound imaging “allows focal visualisation of a target vessel”. The ultrasound imaging also allows the device to make submillimetre adjustments that compensate for movement of the blood vessel. In cases of failure to access the vessel, the device is equipped with an AI system that calculates the course of insertion and knows how to withdraw safely. 

Once the efficiency of such a device has been proven superior to experienced human skill, the race for developing a smaller, more functional and mobile version of the robot is on.  Deployment of such an elaborated device or devices will see vast improvement in the access to safe, local healthcare, at home or at other non-trivial facilities equipped with an autonomous robotic vascular access device.  It will improve the efficiency, ease of testing and treatment of patients, and can lessen the need for hospital admission. This is a step towards advanced home healthcare, improved health services in rural areas as well as dense urban areas, and even has the potential to improve our emergency services. 

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