My first science-related full-time job was in the Anesthesiology Department of the College of Medicine at the University of Florida. My job required me to be at the continuing education lecture series the department held, those starting promptly at 7 AM each weekday. While I didn’t have the benefit of medical school and residency in anesthesiology, there was quite a bit of information appreciable to the lay audience as well. For one thing, anesthesiology is a very demanding specialization in medicine. As various lecturers made clear, a person under anesthesia is about as close to death as medical practice allows, notwithstanding whatever surgical procedure might be going on. Another thing oft repeated was to choose your anesthesiologist with care, but surgeons… hah, they’re a dime a dozen.
One of the large projects going on in the lab toward the end of the time I was there was a study on vigilance. Residents participating in the study were given several hours of a video to watch, after they had completed one of their usual mind-numbing marathon shifts on duty. The video was of monitoring equipment used for anesthesiology, and at points within it would be fluctuations that could indicate a problem. The residents were supposed to note these. Of course, their performance was neither perfect nor was it close to what they could do if well-rested before starting to watch.
The result of the linked article is a computer-automated anesthesia system. It sounds like they have incorporated something very much like an expert system in software, as well as sensors and actuators such that precise dispensing of anesthetic agents can be delivered and results monitored. This is something that may be the harbinger of a means to help reduce the vigilance problem that I got acquainted with back in the early 1980s. It sounds like a good step forward, in any case, though it seems that the initial notion of the market for this system is to fill in for an absent anesthesiologist. I’m thinking that it is more likely to help reduce the strain on anesthesiologists on the spot.