The use of robotic systems in surgical and medical applications is becoming more widespread, with ongoing advances in the technology likely to make this even more common in future.

But how does the general public feel about this trend? Inevitably, any major technological shift is accompanied by concerns about the potential risks it could cause, as well as optimism about the benefits it could deliver. The emergence of robot-assisted surgery has been no exception to this, with the concept proving polarising and controversial.

In order to gauge public attitudes to the use of robots in surgical procedures and medical practice, we carried out a survey in November 2018, with a total of 570 respondents. The results indicate that many people harbour ongoing concerns about the reliability of the technology, even though they are aware of the potential advantages it could provide.

The full findings of our survey are included below for anyone to use as they see fit, with proper attribution and credit to northern-connectors.co.uk.

General attitudes to robotics in medicine

Robots are increasingly being used during surgical procedures and medical practice as a means of making procedures more efficient, accurate and safe. What do you think are the main advantages of using robotics in surgery?

 

What do you think are the main disadvantages of using robotics in surgery?

 

 

Would you rather undergo surgery carried out by a human surgeon or a robot?

 

Why are people for or against robotics in medicine?

 

Respondents who preferred human surgeons seemed to largely focus on issues of trust and safety, expressing a widespread concern that robots cannot adapt to certain situations. The human ability to adapt to the unpredictable seemed to give respondents more confidence that a human surgeon would be able to react more quickly if something unexpectedly went wrong during surgery.

Example responses:

“I assume the robot would follow a set procedure, so I would be concerned about what would happen if anything didn't go to plan, ie surgery complications or robot malfunction.”

“Because humans have the ability to think outside of robot AI on how best to save a patient’s life if something going wrong. Humans are autonomous and can't be hacked or malfunction. Human error, although a risk factor, is a known factor - using an AI removes the ability for human training and an overreliance on on AI.”

“Concerned about the capacity for errors. Would also consider the emotional side. Robots cannot feel the consequences of their actions.”

“Impossible to provide for the unpredictable in the programming of a robot, whereas a human has the initiative to improvise in such circumstances.”

“Would feel better getting information from a surgeon and feel they have more training and more experience.”

Why would you rather undergo surgery carried out by a robot?

The majority of respondents said they simply wouldn’t agree to receive surgical treatment from a robot. The respondents who were amenable to the idea focused on the greater accuracy and precision that automated machines can provide, as well as highlighting the risks posed by human error in conventional surgery. However, even those who were open to the idea indicated that they would require the technology to have been tested and proven before they felt secure in using it.

Example responses:

“Technical errors may be less likely, ie not affected by emotional troubles outside of work. May also be more precise.”

“If it's a simple procedure then it would free up time for complicated surgery. Also waiting lists would be reduced heavily.”

“100% accurate if programmed properly. No human error possible.”

“Greater accuracy in incisions makes it less invasive, may perhaps reduce recovery times and reduce the likelihood of post-op complications such as infection or adhesions etc.”

“I would only consider once the robotic intelligence is fully in its maximum capacity and ability in terms of experience, results and development.”

 

The broader impact of robotics in medicine

To what extent do you believe investment into robotics in medicine would be better spent in other areas?

What other areas do you believe would benefit from increased spending for the NHS?

 

 

To what extent are you worried that increased use of robots in hospitals will lead to job losses?

To what extent do you agree that the increased use of robotics by medical care providers will improve the standard of patient care?

 

To what extent do you agree that the increased use of robotics by medical care providers will improve the standard of patient safety?

The launch of apps such as GP at Hand has given patients the chance to have worrying symptoms checked through a mobile app instead of booking a doctor's appointment. To what extent would you trust this type of technology to accurately diagnose symptoms?

Demographic data