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It’s game over for the robot intended to replace anesthesiologists

Tricia Kunkel, RN preps Lisa McLaughlin, 49, for a colonoscopy at the ProMedica Toledo Hospital on April 9, 2015. A dose of propofol is delivered through the nose piece from the Sedasys machine to the patient. (Dustin Franz for The Washington Post)

Last May, we wrote about a new machine from healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson that could sedate patients for routine medical procedures.

The device handled one of the most common and yet risky hospital procedures: Putting someone to sleep so they don’t feel discomfort or pain, yet not so asleep that they don’t wake up.

At the time, the Sedasys machine was being used in just four hospitals, including the one we visited in Toledo. We watched as the Sedasys device provided basic anesthesiology services to a series of patients undergoing routine endoscopies and colonoscopies.

[New machine could one day replace anesthesiologists]

No longer did you need a trained anesthesiologist. And sedation with the Sedasys machine cost $150 to $200 for each procedure, compared to $2,000 for an anesthesiologist, one of healthcare’s best-paid specialties.  The machine was seen as the leading lip of an automation wave transforming hospitals.

But Johnson & Johnson recently announced it was pulling the plug on Sedasys because of poor sales.

The decision was first reported by Outpatient Surgery Magazine and Anesthesiology News.

It comes as the healthcare company earlier this year unveiled plans to shake up its medical device businesses, including laying off 4 to 6 percent of its medical device employees worldwide over the next two years. Johnson & Johnson reported that revenue from its specialty medical devices – Sedasys and others – have been flat for more than a year, hovering at just over $200 million each quarter. It did not break out Sedasys figures.

Sedasys was never welcomed by human anesthesiologists. Before it even hit the market, the American Society of Anesthesiologists campaigned against it, backing down only once the machine’s potential uses were limited to routine procedures such as colonoscopies.

The Post's story back in May provoked an outpouring of messages from anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetist who claimed a machine could never replicate a human’s care or diligence. Many sounded offended at the notion that a machine could do their job.

And, at least when it comes to the Sedasys machine, they were right.