Robots working in various fields used to only be the stuff of science fiction. However, recent innovations have translated these scenes into reality, particularly in nursing and healthcare.
Like many jobs in the medical and healthcare field, nursing can be demanding. For this reason, many hospitals worldwide have chosen to use robot nurses to assist in daily hospital tasks, especially within the past decade.
Multiple US hospitals have incorporated robot nurses into their staff this past month. For example, the MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, Washington, has acquired four Moxi robots to help deliver lab samples and patient supplies.
The Elmhurst Memorial Hospital in Illinois also uses robotic nursing assistants to address nursing shortages brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
How do robot nurses work? What are the dynamics between robot nurses and human hospital staff? This post will explore robot nurses’ capabilities, benefits, and challenges in the field.
Robot Nurses at Work
Robotics is the process of engineering and operating machines that can perform physical tasks autonomously or semi-autonomously.
The word “robot” usually refers to mechanical robots. They use sensors and data processing to interact with their physical environment. However, the rise of AI and machine learning has also led to “bots,” which are pieces of software designed to perform tasks without a physical body.
Most robot nurses are mechanical robots designed to take over certain physical tasks and assist human nurses. Many models have been developed through the years, some of which we will discuss below.
Developed by Diligent Robotics, Moxi helps nurses by performing simple yet time-consuming tasks. Nurses and other healthcare professionals can focus on achieving more complicated tasks with their assistance.
Moxi robots can help nurses run prescriptions, deliver lab samples, distribute personal protective equipment, and deliver medications.
During the initial setup, Moxi robots come with a Diligent Robotics implementation team. The implementation team will help the hospital set up custom commands and functions to suit a particular environment.
Some hospitals in Japan and Thailand use the Dinsow robot. Its main application is patient care, especially among the elderly.
It was developed by CT Robotics, a Thai company, aiming to address the needs of people with Alzheimer’s. Its features include face recognition, voice recognition, and voice commands. It also uses AI to learn more about the patient’s voice, facial features, behavior, and lifestyle.
Dinsow helps patients connect with their loved ones by setting up video calls and alerting caregivers about their situation. It can also create reminders for medication and exercise and even entertain in the form of games and karaoke.
While there are robots that work best in a clinical or care setting, Hal is one used to train medical professionals. Hal uses artificial intelligence to simulate various medical conditions to which medical and nursing students can respond.
Its capabilities can be eerily realistic, using AI and animatronics to act and respond in a near-realistic way. Its head and eyes can move as if responding or asking for help. It can sweat, cry, and display various symptoms, according to the simulation.
Hal’s AI capabilities also allow it to speak with people. It can listen to questions and statements and respond accordingly.
Schools like the Pickens Technical College have raved about Hal’s capabilities and see it as an excellent learning and training resource.
Most medical robots look and act like humanoids, but Paro sets itself apart by looking like a baby harp seal. This therapeutic robot’s “cute” factor makes it popular in hospitals and extended care facilities.
It is a viable substitute for facilities that may not be able to support therapy animals but still want the same benefits. Paro can help reduce patient stress and improve socialization between patients and their caregivers or peers.
Paro has five kinds of sensors: light, tactile, audio, temperature, and posture, which allow it to sense and interact with its environment. The light sensor will enable it to sense light and dark, while the tactile sensor helps it feel when touched or stroked.
Its auditory sensor helps it sense and understand the direction of words such as their name, greetings, and praise.
Pepper the robot isn’t strictly a medical or nursing robot. However, it can also fulfill tasks needed in hospitals and care facilities. In some Belgian hospitals, Pepper works in the hospital reception area.
As a receptionist, it helps greet people and guide them to the appropriate hospital department according to their needs. It can recognize multiple languages, genders, and emotions such as joy, sadness, surprise, and anger. It is also sensitive to non-verbal cues like smiles, frowns, head movements, and vocal tones.
Aside from greeting people and leading them to relevant areas and services, Pepper can also serve as an information hub. Hospitals and other facilities can program Pepper to respond to possible queries from patients and their caregivers. These queries could cover logistics, schedules, or possible financial and legal issues.
Robotics in Healthcare
Robots can be engineered and programmed to perform many tasks, which is why their applications span several industries, including healthcare. The medical service robots market size, in particular, reached $10.6 billion worldwide in 2021.
Innovations in robotics have also led to various robots suited for the medical field. Here are five types of robots you can find in some medical and care settings.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reemphasized the need for regular sanitation and disinfection efforts. This need is even more essential in hospitals and care facilities that house vulnerable individuals.
Proper sanitation and disinfection can take a significant amount of time and resources. Nurses and hospital staff must adhere to proper procedures and wear appropriate PPE.
Sanitation robots can help hospitals hasten this process. Robots cannot get infected, making them valuable in sanitation and disinfection efforts. They also allow hospital staff to focus on more urgent tasks that require human judgment.
Nurses often need to put on many hats in a hospital setting. Aside from providing patient care and interacting with them and their loved ones, nurses also need to do a lot of legwork.
They are often responsible for delivering samples, administering medications, drawing blood, and monitoring patient vitals. While these tasks are essential, they also take up much of human nurses’ time.
Robot nurses can help in this regard. They can take over some of the more repetitive tasks often done by human nurses. They can also help with more physically demanding duties, such as lifting and transferring patients from one room to another.
Physical healing is only one part of the recovery process. Companionship and emotional support also help patients recover from severe injuries or illnesses.
Ideally, companionship can be provided by a patient’s loved ones, human nurses, or other hospital staff. However, as hospitals become overwhelmed, especially with staffing shortages, robots can take over this critical role.
Robotic companions can provide patients with the emotional support, and companionship patients need to heal. Robots like Paro and Dinsow can help patients by interacting with patients and improving their overall well-being.
Most robots are separate, independently-moving objects. However, robotic exoskeletons are a unique yet equally beneficial type of robot used in the medical field.
Like exoskeletons found naturally in some animals, robotic exoskeletons can also aid bodily protection and movement. They work like an external set of bones and muscles, helping people to move correctly.
Robotic exoskeletons are particularly beneficial for patients recovering from severe injuries. They aid patients undergoing intensive physical therapy, helping their mobility and sense of independence.
As the name suggests, microbots are minuscule robots tiny enough to enter a patient’s body. Also known as microswimmers, these robots are similar in size to human cells, which will theoretically allow them inside the human body.
The technology for these robots is still under development. Scientists and medical professionals are collaborating to create microbots they can use to perform various essential medical functions.
Some potential uses of microbots include surgery and drug delivery. Using microbots for these purposes means minimally invasive surgeries for patients that need them. Direct drug delivery with microbots could also mean reducing side effects and increasing a drug’s potency.
However, one prominent hurdle scientists still need to address is the issue of control. Scientists and medical professionals need precision to ensure the microbot doesn’t get lost in the body and cause unexpected problems.
Benefits of Using Robots in Healthcare
Technological advances in robotics and other technologies have led to several strides forward in the medical field. Nurses, doctors, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals are currently enjoying the benefits of robots in healthcare.
Here are some significant advantages medical facilities and practitioners have experienced with robots.
Quality patient care is a significant part of healthcare. However, proper care covers a lot of moving parts. Delivering medications, performing surgical procedures, administering treatments, and providing companionship are only some aspects necessary for a patient’s overall care.
Short-staffed hospitals can quickly become overwhelmed by performing all of these tasks, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Robots offer a welcome reprieve from simple, routine tasks that could take up a lot of time and resources for human staff. They can provide a wide range of capabilities that assist in various functions in medical settings.
By taking over some simple yet time-consuming tasks, human nurses and staff can focus on more significant matters. The assistance of robots in healthcare facilities can help staff provide consistent and high-quality patient care.
In connection with the previous advantage, medical and healthcare robots can help improve hospital workflows.
Doctors, nurses, and other staff often get bogged down by administrative or maintenance tasks. Using robots for some of these tasks can help save time and allow staff to focus on more pressing concerns.
Robots can be tasked to deliver medications and medical specimens, check on patients’ vitals, and perform other necessary yet tedious hospital tasks.
Most hospital robots can also generate reports automatically. This feature ensures doctors, nurses, and other staff know the goings-on concerning tasks assigned to robots.
The pandemic has reemphasized the need for proper sanitation and disinfection processes, especially for hospitals. Of course, hospital staff can use personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves. However, constant exposure to bacteria and viruses presents a particular risk.
Assigning robots to perform cleaning and sanitation tasks can minimize the risk of infection among hospital staff. Since they are machines, robots cannot get infected or experience exhaustion. This characteristic makes them ideal for such tasks.
Robots can be assigned to fetch and change hospital linens, clean floors and equipment, and other similar tasks. They can help limit pathogen exposure and assist human staff in performing demanding tasks.
Elderly care assistance
Robots are helpful for more technical tasks like drawing blood and delivering medications or specimens. However, they can also be a permanent fixture that helps assist patients in the healing process.
Many robots have specifically been developed to assist in elderly care. They can help monitor patient vitals and transmit this information to human caretakers or nurses. This feature allows nurses to stay up-to-date with the patient’s status remotely, minimizing the need for costly home visits.
Robots can also provide companionship and serve as an avenue for social interaction, which is essential for elderly care. They can facilitate calls between the patient and loved ones who may be far away. Companion robots can alleviate loneliness and aid in improving the patient’s overall well-being.
Robot-assisted surgery is now a possibility in some hospitals. Motion control technologies have advanced so surgeons can perform surgeries with added speed and precision.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and computer vision technologies have significantly increased the competence of robots performing surgeries. They can distinguish between various types of tissue, which increases their accuracy and stability.
Disadvantages of Robotics in Healthcare
Despite their many advantages, robots also present challenges when used in healthcare. Like all technological advancements, it’s essential to be wary of such disadvantages to address them accordingly.
The most significant disadvantage of using robots in healthcare is the cost. It is also the biggest deterrent to hospitals acquiring one for their facilities.
Robots are costly to acquire and maintain. They can cost upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is a steep price, especially for public hospitals. The hospital staff assigned to maintain the robot will also require additional training.
The high cost of medical robots can also mean larger hospital bills for patients. Robot-assisted surgery, while potentially life-saving, will also come at a steeper price.
Risk of error
While robots usually perform as programmed, there still exists a risk of them making mistakes. Proper and regular maintenance can reduce this risk, but it doesn’t eliminate it.
Robots can still experience malfunctions and commit errors, which can prove disastrous during significant activities like surgeries.
Hospital robots are often acquired to take over more straightforward, repetitive tasks that require a significant chunk of time and resources. While not yet a significant problem, using robots in the workplace may render some staff’s services redundant and result in layoffs.
Leverage Technology To Improve Nursing and Healthcare Services
Robotics has advanced to such a level that they can now perform tasks necessary for proper patient care. Instead of pitting robot nurses and human nurses against one another, healthcare facilities can explore the unique advantages of robotics.
Technological advancements should be oriented toward improving human life. With proper systems set in place, human and robot nurses can help one another in providing quality patient care.