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New Machine Could Replace Anesthesiologists

Personalized sedation device is at leading edge of automation wave

The Sedasys system (Johnson & Johnson), a computer-assisted personalized sedation machine, is at the leading edge of an automation wave that could transform hospitals just as technology changed automobile factories, according to the Washington Post. But the device doesn’t seek to replace just hospital shift workers –– it’s targeting one of the best-paid medical specialties.

Device maker Johnson & Johnson only recently deployed the first-of-its-kind machine despite winning FDA approval in 2013. The rollout has been deliberately cautious for a device that hints at the future of health care, when machines take on tasks once assumed beyond their reach. Currently, only four hospitals in the U.S. are using the devices.

Anesthesiologists lobbied against it for years, arguing that no machine could replicate their skills or handle an emergency if something went wrong, the article says. Anesthesiology requires 4 years of training after medical school, meaning careers might not launch until the doctors are in their 30s. It’s one reason the profession’s median salary is $277,000 a year, according to the research firm Payscale.

The FDA initially rejected the Sedasys device over safety concerns in 2010. But Johnson & Johnson, which began work on the machine in 2000, won approval by agreeing to have an anesthesiology doctor or nurse on-call in case of emergencies and to limit use to simple screenings, such as colonoscopies and endoscopies in healthy patients.

The American College of Anesthesiologists dropped its steadfast opposition as it became apparent Sedasys was going to get approved. The group instead pushed for restrictive guidelines.

The Sedasys device uses propofol, which is ideal for colonoscopies because of its rapid onset.

More advanced machines are in the works. Researchers at the University of British Columbia in Canada are testing a device that can fully automate anesthesia for complicated brain and heart surgeries, even in children. Hospital administrators envision the day when Sedasys or a similar device is used throughout their facilities for sedation.

Colonoscopies are among the most common medical procedures, with about 14 million done annually. The screenings are often uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Many patients would prefer to be sedated, and in recent years anesthesia has grown more common for these procedures. In 2009, an estimated $1.1 billion was spent on traditional anesthesia services for colonoscopies, according to a research study.

Source: Washington Post; May 12, 2015.


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