Virtually every industry is more tech-driven and data-oriented than ever, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare industry faced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, exacerbated by staff shortages, nurse burnout, and other factors. Advanced robotics could help essential healthcare workers, nurses, physicians, and scientists fight future pandemics or global health crises.
Increasing Use of Robots in Healthcare
Advanced technologies are becoming more ubiquitous in the health and medical sector, and robotics are no exception. According to Global Newswire, the medical robotics market will hit approximately $35.2 billion by 2030.
One of the reasons why robotics are becoming so widely used in health care is because these systems automate many tasks within facilities, such as urgent care, hospitals, or nursing homes. There are a few different types of robotics proving useful:
- Surgical/robotic-assisted surgeries
Each type of robot plays a critical role in a healthcare facility’s operations, as they all serve a unique purpose. Since robotics are still in their early stages, developments will help new robotic systems emerge for different purposes than those listed above.
5 Potential Robotics Applications for Future Pandemics
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many of the underlying weaknesses the system grappled with. A future pandemic could wreak havoc on the country’s healthcare system.
At one point during COVID-19, the federal government had to step in and direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to reduce the risk of exposure for healthcare workers after gaining a better understanding of how the virus passes from person to person.
One positive aspect of the pandemic is industry leaders learned many valuable lessons, whether it was understanding employee work-life balance, the need for new technologies, or how critical it is to have the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) available for workers. Some specific robotics applications could help countries worldwide handle a future pandemic.
1. Regular Cleaning and Disinfecting
Keeping surfaces clean in healthcare facilities and clinics is a top concern. Automated robots could travel around a facility to do just that — modern robotic solutions use UV light to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces. Carrying out regular cleanings and disinfection tasks can reduce the human cleaning workers must perform before, during, and after patient care processes.
2. Manufacturing Healthcare Products
Robotics are also highly useful in the manufacturing and distribution stage of the health care and medical product supply chain. For example, robotic inspection stations can monitor products for defects or quality control issues, which is critical when these products are going to healthcare organizations for patient use. Robotics can also assist with manufacturing, storing, packaging, and distributing vaccines and other life-saving, pandemic-fighting technologies.
3. Delivering Hospice Care
Social robotics can bring joy to patients and their families during an emotionally challenging time, such as being placed in hospice. In Ireland, a robot called Stevie is already uplifting the spirits of nursing home residents by playing games and singing karaoke with them. These cases could become much more common across the hospice or nursing home sector.
4. Assisting Lab Employees
The COVID-19 pandemic shows time is of the essence when creating a viable vaccine or treatment plan for people with the deadly virus. For instance, in Thailand, ABB robots helped develop the COVID-19 vaccine to provide people with immunity, reducing the spread and the number of COVID-19-related fatalities.
5. Playing the Role of Receptionist
Another use case for robotics in health care is to take on the role of a receptionist or other hospitality-based employees. Similar to AI-powered chatbots, robots can help gather data about patients while they wait to be seen by a physician and assist patients with non-medical or procedural tasks.
In a future pandemic, replacing human nurses or doctors with hospitality robots could be a significant boon to healthcare organizations. They could limit the chance of exposure and keep staff healthy to continue delivering positive patient experiences.
3 Primary Benefits of Robotics in Healthcare
As the world becomes more technologically advanced, the number of robotic systems across the healthcare sector will continue to skyrocket. Robotics offers several advantages to healthcare facilities and clinics, which is why more organizations are adopting and implementing automated robotic solutions.
1. Alleviates Labor Shortages
There’s a severe shortage of skilled healthcare workers right now. Without sufficient employees, healthcare facilities cannot meet patient demands with enough speed or effectiveness. Robotics can save the day by taking on various simple tasks.
Although some people believe automated pieces of equipment will cause worker displacement, it likely won’t happen in the foreseeable future. If anything, robotics will help curb labor shortages, so healthcare professionals can deliver on desired patient outcomes.
2. Makes Facilities Safer and Cleaner
PPE was essential to prevent the spread of the virus during the COVID-19 pandemic. When a pandemic hits and severely ill patients come in for hospitalization, the facility becomes a breeding ground for viral transmission. As mentioned above, robotics keep healthcare clinics clean using disinfectant technology, reducing the spread of viruses or bacteria to protect workers, visitors, and other patients.
3. Produces Critical Medical Devices More Efficiently
It’s no secret that future manufacturing facilities will leverage robotics and other automation technologies to increase efficiency and productivity. Factories use robotics to handle repetitive tasks during the manufacturing process, such as packaging, building, tweaking, and spotting defects. These manufacturing stages can become more efficient using robotics, as they can work all day with little human intervention.
Popular Robotics Used in Modern Healthcare
Here are some of the most popular robotics revolutionizing the medical field. They’re highly advanced and could play a significant role in fighting future pandemics.
Denmark-based company UVD Robots created an autonomous UV-C robot — simply referred to as the UVD Robot — capable of following cleaning and disinfection procedures in healthcare facilities. The robot has innovative features like laser scanners, sensors, 3D cameras, and UV-C lights — which limit the risk of transmission of microorganisms — to perform its cleaning and disinfecting. Facilities using the UVD Robot control it using a connected tablet device.
Many doctors and surgeons are leveraging the robotic-assisted surgery robot known as the da Vinci system. The primary purpose of the da Vinci robot is to extend the capabilities of surgeons’ hands and eyes, allowing them to perform surgery more precisely.
The da Vinci system uses small instruments that move similarly to a human hand but with a greater range of motion. It also leverages built-in tremor filtration technology, which allows surgeons to move each small instrument smoothly and with ultra-precision.
Lastly, the CyberKnife system is a non-invasive robotic system used to treat cancerous and non-cancerous tumors and other conditions requiring radiation therapy. The system is an excellent alternative to surgery, which many patients would opt out of if provided the opportunity.
CyberKnife can treat numerous areas of the body:
Patients typically undergo one to five CyberKnife treatment sessions. The robotic system has more than 20 years of proof in the clinical setting, with thousands of patients receiving treatment.
Adopting Robotics to Help With Future Pandemics
No one wants to think about another potential pandemic, but if there’s anything COVID-19 taught people, adequate preparation is necessary to find the light at the end of the tunnel. It seems as though the healthcare sector was wholly unprepared to handle something as serious as a global pandemic.
To prevent history from repeating itself, healthcare organizations must adopt the latest technologies, including robotics. The role of robotics will change in the digital healthcare sector as they become increasingly sophisticated and new applications emerge.