Robots have been advancing over the years as the technology has gotten better, and could be more common that you think in the near future. One industry where robotics are already being utilized in many different ways is the healthcare industry, and COVID-19 has only accelerated their use.
Keeping exposure at a minimum is one of the most important factors in reducing the spread of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For healthcare professionals, it is very difficult to do so, especially with the lack of PPE and other essential equipment over the past few months. One of the innovative ways to reduce the exposure for our healthcare personnel is the use of robotics to execute many daily tasks otherwise performed by people.
Here are just a few ways that robotics are changing the healthcare industry:
1. Disinfection Robots
One of the most common uses of robots in healthcare throughout 2020 has been disinfecting rooms and other areas in healthcare facilities. Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, it has been a struggle to effectively disinfect areas where contagious people have been without risking infection for the personnel who have to clean that space.
One of the solutions for this problem is the use of disinfection robots to eliminate potential further spread to humans. This has been utilized in China and other countries around the world to help fight the pandemic. One model of the disinfection robot relies on ultraviolet light to get rid of the bacteria and germs that linger in hospitals. The self driving robots have a 360 degree UV light that allows it to hit every spot in a room with its light, which supposedly kills 99.99% of bacteria, making them much more effective than people.
Another model of the disinfection robot drives around and sprays disinfectant throughout high traffic areas in healthcare facilities. This model has been used outside of the healthcare industry as well, and has been utilized to help disinfect public spaces throughout communities. These robots are helping out our essential workers that have needed a well-deserved break from putting themselves at risk night in and night out.
2. Healthcare Assistance Robots
Robots have been used to help out healthcare personnel in performing essential but potentially risky tasks with the outbreak of coronavirus. In Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, robots have been used in hospitals to help out with the duties of the overworked staff. These robots were used to flag patients coming into the facility that showed fever symptoms, to monitor heart rates and oxygen levels of patients, as well as delivering essential medication to patients’ rooms. Some AI–based robots are even capable of providing medical advisory services to patients in order to reduce the amount of time that healthcare workers need to expose themselves to the virus. In some cases, human interaction isn’t even necessary after the patient-robot interaction, furthering the potential for these innovative robots.
Other robots have been developed to help healthcare professionals carry out daily tasks but have not yet come into wide use. One example of this was created by researchers in China who designed a robot arm on wheels. This robot has the ability to perform ultrasounds, take mouth swabs of patients, and take the place of a stethoscope to listen to patients’ organs. All of these tasks are usually done by people, but with a highly contagious pandemic going around, this technology minimizes the need for person to person contact and could drastically help reduce the spread of coronavirus as well as HAIs and other diseases.
3. Delivery Robots
Another great use of robots in healthcare facilities has been delivering food and medication to patients. This task is usually performed by nurses or other workers, but using robots to carry out these routine duties drastically reduces the amount of exposure for our healthcare professionals, and in turn for reduces it for everyone.
The technology allows for these robots to be driven by engineers remotely through the cloud, using the robots as a medium to deliver essential goods such as medicine or food. This application of robotics can be utilized in other industries as well, and has been used in some cities to help deliver food to peoples’ homes who are in quarantine.
Looking to the Future of Robotics in Healthcare
Robots have been trending upwards in the healthcare industry for quite some time, and the global pandemic that we are currently navigating has fast-tracked their use, but there are still some concerns about the increased use of robotics.
One of those concerns is that robots will take the place of humans, and will eliminate many healthcare jobs. However, that is likely not the case, at least in the foreseeable future. It is much more probable that humans will continue to work alongside robots, increasing our own productivity, rather than being replaced by them. Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, robots have not replaced human jobs, but rather made them more safe and efficient. The majority of healthcare robots that we have seen are teleoperated, meaning that our healthcare workers can still provide their expertise and passion for the work, but can do so from a safe distance, reducing the spread of the virus.
One argument is that the autonomous disinfection robots have taken away workers jobs, but in reality they have actually made it possible for our workers to do their jobs better. The disinfection robots greatly reduce the amount of time that healthcare personnel have to spend on routine tasks like cleaning, allowing them to spend their time on more critical tasks that the robots are not capable of.
COVID-19 has opened our eyes to the possibilities of robotics in healthcare, and they will only grow from here. The next time a global pandemic comes around, don’t be surprised to see robots performing tasks that humans otherwise would, because coronavirus has not only accelerated their use today, but has also accelerated research into finding out all of the great and innovative ways that robotics can help improve the healthcare industry in the future.