TAIPEI: The oval-shaped robot rolls its eyes, sputters in Mandarin and then raises its arms. Hsiu-Mei Lin of Kaohsiung Medical University Chung-Ho Memorial Hospital says the robot is providing information about breast cancer and is being used to spread awareness about the disease.
Robots have been a craze in medical health care in Taiwan, as doctors are betting on machines to ensure the surgeries are fool-proof. The Island, which is facing pressure by China for union with the Asian giant, is trying to tap its IT sector to become a major global player in the health sector.
Doctors like Jerry Chih-Hsiao Chen have been successful in inventing new equipment that could revolutionise the way neurosurgeries are performed. Dr Chen, also a neuro surgeon, has designed Brain Navi biotechnology, which uses camera-based computer vision algorithms to estimate 3D geometry and motion during brain surgeries. The system is built to help surgeons come up with a surgery plan based on pre-operative imagery, including MRI scans of internal body structures.
A deep-brain surgical procedure for implanting electrodes that stimulate areas in the brain normally takes over eight hours to complete the procedure. “By using Brain Navi system, it will take less than eight minutes and reduces the time patients spend under anaesthesia, Chen says.
Hospitals in Taiwan are also tapping virtual reality (VR) to test for diseases. Director Tseng Lung Yang of Kaohsiung Veterans Hospital demonstrated the use of VR to screen patients with muscle diseases. Similarly, renaissance robotic spine surgery was demonstrated by Chih Lung Lin of Kaohsiung Medical University Chung-Ho Memorial Hospital.
Interestingly, these technology and inventions are attracting not only patients from South East Asia and South Asia to Taiwan but also medical experts, who are being trained on conducting surgeries as well as the use of technology.
“We had 1.03 lakh international patients visiting Taiwan in 2017 of which 1,975 are from India. This year, till now we had more than one lakh patients of which 2,026 are from India,” says Yueh-Ping Liu, Senior Technical Specialist, Department of Medical Affairs, Ministry of Health and Welfare, Taiwan.
Walter Yeh, President-CEO, Taiwan External Trade Development Council, says, “In 2018, 14 medical institutions were accredited by the JCI (Joint Commission International), which is a medical evaluation with the highest credibility, recognized globally by medical professionals.”
Mohit Jain, who is undergoing a fellowship at Linkou Chang Gung Hospital, says that Taiwan is more advanced in medical field and more or less is on par with United States. “I prefer Taiwan because, in the US, Indian fellows are not allowed to touch patients,” he points out.
However, cost remains a factor. Taiwan claims their services are cheaper than the US but living in Indonesia, Phillipines or Bangladesh is not cheap. “A room at a hospital in Kaohsiung Veterans Hospital, which has five-star amenities, is $5,000 Taiwanese (`11,000 approx) per day,” says Dr Li-Te Lin while showcasing the Reproductive Centre International Ward at the hospital, which is located 361 km from Taipei.
However, the cost of cardiac surgery is cheaper which could be anywhere between Rs 35,000 to Rs 70,000. Interestingly, Taiwan is trying to carve out a name in international arena in the health sector but is worried that its’ technology and equipment may be equated with that of China.
Economic independence has been one of the major reasons for Taiwan wanting to stay away from the Union with China. But Simon Wang, Executive VP, Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA), says, “It won’t have any major impact on Taiwan’s economy.”
The writer was in the country at the invitation of the Taiwan health ministry.