Will Doctors Soon Go The Way of Pinboys?

In bowling, a pinsetter or pinspotter is an automated mechanical device that sets bowling pins back in their original positions, returns bowling balls to the front of the alley, and clears fallen pins on the pin deck. Prior to the machine’s invention, pinsetters were boys or young men (pin boys) who manually reset pins and returned balls (see picture above) The first mechanical pinsetter was invented by Gottfried (Fred) Schmidt, who sold the patent in 1941 to AMF. Pinsetting machines have largely done away with pinsetting as a manual profession, although a small number of bowling alleys still use human pinsetters. While humans usually no longer set the pins, a pinchaser (or “pin monkey”) is often stationed near the equipment to ensure it is clean and working properly, and to clear minor jams. (Wikipedia)

It was an early example of technology replacing people, and that trend has certainly accelerated in recent years.

But you would think that some jobs are immune from being replaced by technology, like doctors.

Well, apparently that’s not quite the case.

A team from Johns Hopkins University says a robot has successfully performed the first laparoscopic surgery — without a doctor to guide it through the procedure.

Laparoscopic (or “keyhole”) surgery is a common, minimally invasive procedure that inserts a camera inside a tube into the abdomen or a woman’s reproductive system to check for problems.

The procedure, performed on a pig, is a major step towards fully autonomous operations on patients. During the surgery, the robot called STAR (Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot) successfully reconnected two ends of the intestine.

Researchers say STAR actually performed better than real surgeons, who deviated more from the ideal cut line — causing more tissue damage.

“Our findings show that we can automate one of the most intricate and delicate tasks in surgery: the reconnection of two ends of an intestine. The STAR performed the procedure in four animals and it produced significantly better results than humans performing the same procedure,” says senior author Dr. Axel Krieger, a mechanical engineer at Johns Hopkins.

The Laparoscopic procedure is arguably the most challenging task in gastrointestinal surgery, requiring a high level of accuracy and consistency. Even the slightest hand tremor or misplaced stitch can result in a leak — with potentially catastrophic complications for the patient.

STAR has an infrared camera and new features for enhanced independence and improved precision. They include specialized suturing tools and state-of-the-art scanners that provide more accurate visualizations of the surgical field.

Soft-tissue surgery is especially hard for robots because of its unpredictability. Dr. Krieger adds it forces the technology to adapt quickly to handle unexpected obstacles.

STAR has a novel control system that can adjust the surgical plan in real-time, just as a human surgeon would.

“What makes the STAR special is that it is the first robotic system to plan, adapt, and execute a surgical plan in soft tissue with minimal human intervention,” Dr. Krieger explains. “We hypothesize that this will result in a democratized surgical approach to patient care with more predictable and consistent patient outcomes.”

This study seems to suggest it is only a matter of time before robots are used in a greater variety of surgical procedures, and eventually replace doctors.

This could be decades down the road, but it may be something people need to start thinking about now.

What will all the doctors do if they are no longer needed?

Maybe they can go bowling, and reminisce about the good old days…

*image from WIkipedia

Source: StudyFinds

60 thoughts on “Will Doctors Soon Go The Way of Pinboys?

  1. Radiologists are another area of medicine (I bet there are many) that is already being replaced by technology. My sister was a radiologist and retired in part because of technology doing many of the duties docs used to do. On one of the Star Trek series, the doctor was an android. Given screw ups by docs I’ve been involved with, I’d rather have a machine than a person.

    Technology is replacing a lot of the work young lawyers used to do. I think there are even programs for writing legal briefs. With the inevitable advances in technology and AI, it is hard to think of a job that a machine couldn’t do better and more cheaply than a human. Woe is us!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm. I wonder how you have a follow-up discussion to discuss how the surgery went.

    I don’t watch bowling much, but I know there is a rule that allows a bowler to get three reracks per game. Apparently, the technology of pin setting isn’t always accurate.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. some robots might have better bedside manners than some doctors 🙂

      and I am sure there is some degree of variation with those pinsetting machines that an experienced eye could catch…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. There are programs that can spellcheck, and suggest better grammar. And that forced, and freed, editors to do the more creative work, maybe the harder work. Maybe that would be a great catalyst for physicians to focus on people’s health and wellbeing, rather than on the mechanics of specific procedures that can be done more accurately by machines. Maybe that’s a good thing? 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My daughter the third-year med student had already decided that whatever specialty she chose she’d want to be able to follow a patient through beyond whatever she’d done to fix them. She has now chosen family practice/general med.

      The first reason for that choice is that it is currently less competitive for residency. The second is that it will probably be more in demand i.e. lucrative and more competitive in the future, possibly based on the more beneficial path or machine-based med you’re proposing.

      I suspect that she may now be “killing two birds with one stone” with this choice in that it will meet her esoteric desire to follow patients through various levels of life and care as well as enable her to make a decent living and be able to pay off her loans and eventually to retire and live a/the good life.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. that is some forward-looking thinking on your daughter’s part. I’m happy to hear about doctors wanting to go into family med, since to me such doctors are at the heart of our health care system. I wish her the best!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. She’s an inspiration: treating people, not only symptoms… Focusing on the people, not only on their conditions… Keeping people healthy, not only administering medicine… That should be the most lucrative field in medicine!

        Liked by 2 people

  4. I absolutely agree with Endless Weekend…people would be far healthier if doctors had the time and training to offer proper nutrition advice and mental health advice instead of just dishing out pills …

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Fascinating, Jim. I do often marvel at the skills of our surgeons and have done so more often since the virus has hit and required us all to wear masks. I say that I can’t see, I can’t hear and I can’t think while wearing a mask, though doctors and nurses, including surgeons, wear them all the time. I always admired them, but my admiration and gratitude has increased one hundred-fold. I wonder how many times the robotic procedure will be trialled before used on humans. If a man can receive a pig’s heart, why not be operated on by robots? Less room for ‘human error’.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am with you in terms of my admiration of health care workers growing the past couple of years, and it was already quite high. And I would hope there are lots of trials, but it seems inevitable that this is what the future will look like…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I wonder how the younger generation will grow into it. Perhaps they won’t feel they have lost anything – it’s just the way things are. For us, like the carefree days of our childhoods, it’s a loss.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. well, at least robots would not be worried about whatever else is going on in their lives, or the state of the world in general, or if their children are or are not doing something, or their love lives, or the aftereffects of a party they attended the night before, while operating. and the docs could be more focused on wellness care of their patients.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. are you suggesting that doctors care about those other things? 🙂

      but I agree, this could be an opportunity for doctors and technology to work together to improve patient outcomes…


    1. And I think some doctors in the U.S. quit because of all the red tape. But I think robots will be a part of health care at some point…

      it could help with problems like doctor shortages

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Robots may diagnose better but many people go to the doctor just for a chat – even if they don’t know that. Their ailments are often psychosomatic and need the reassuring presence of the man in the doctor’s chair with the authority to say ‘All will be well’.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I already have a robot doctor. When I visit, he checks his computer program to see what my insurance will allow him to do. He does that. He then enters in his computer that he did that. I then go home. The only thing human about him is, if I ask him any questions about my health, he laughs.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is crazy! First – never thought that actual pinsetters were used but I guess that makes sense, we didn’t always have technology! And two, robots as doctors?? On the one hand, yes they are very mechanical and likely can be precise (plus the better bedside manners than some, haha) but they don’t have the capacity (I wouldn’t think) to problem solve the way I feel like I doctor/surgeon might be able to at the turn of events or something…..

    This reminds me of the new attendant-free grocery store, that’d be interesting to try out some time! We’re living in different times, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I always love your last line! I seriously doubt robots will be a medical choice from the patient’s point of view. This was very interesting, Jim. Love the photo of the bowling pin guys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks, Jennie. I think the future f medicine probably involves a combo of humans and advanced technologies. And I sued to love bowling when I was younger, so that job would have been right up my alley 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’m all for accuracy. I remember a similar finding from Malcolm Gladwell in saying they’d developed a checklist for potential heart attack patients -the doctors insisted they knew better by ‘gut instinct;’ when, in fact, following the checklist was more accurate. A computer would function by checklist mentality as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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