Doctors are swamped. Nurses are swamped. Every single healthcare employee is packed to the gills with responsibilities, outrageous hours, and straight-up hard work. 

With physician shortages being the norm, and the number of insured patients only rising, something has to give. Clinicians are burning out faster than ever before, due to a combination of increased bureaucracy, paperwork load, and restrictive regulation that seems to put more of the treatment decisions in the hands of the insurance companies instead of the physicians themselves.

One solution, of course, is to find a way to incentivize more people to become doctors and nurses, which is a complicated discussion that involves every layer of healthcare and politics. Another solution is to take as much of the non-essential work off of the clinicians’ hands as possible. Some of this can be done with improved EMR automation, medical computers with single sign-on capabilities, and the practice of hiring support staff like scribes.

However, there’s a way to nip the bigger problem of a sky-high workload right in the bud. That’s where cooperative, non-surgical robots come into the equation — or into the hospital if you’re lucky.  

What Are Non-Surgical Robots?

Surgical robots have been in the operating room for some time — though, as we’ve said before, those aren’t so much autonomous “robots” as they are just computerized surgical tools. Through a surgical robot, a surgeon uses a 4k medical monitor or other interface and all of the combined viewing equipment and tiny instruments to improve their ability to help patients. 

Non-surgical robots, however, are actually robots. By definition, a robot is an autonomous or partially-autonomous machine that can move independently and perform relatively complex tasks. 

They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and purposes, of course, and they can help in different ways. Some robots can lug equipment and supplies around, while others sit on a desk and use an autonomous arm to perform repetitive or banal tasks. Others are larger and sometimes even more human-shaped, and provide companionship or even mobility assistance to those who need help with small tasks. 

But what precisely can these robots do, now in the future? How can they help doctors and nurses right now? 

What Tasks Need Automating?

Obviously, we’re going to leave the job of diagnosis, patient interaction, and treatment to the human experts — which, let’s be honest, is exactly how doctors and nurses should be spending their whole day.

The robots can instead alleviate the workload from tasks that simply don’t require 8 years of medical school. 

Better yet, this isn’t theoretical — these kinds of robots have already been successfully deployed. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Have Medical Robots Been Successfully Used?

Considering the medical robotics market has been projected to grow to $20 billion by 2023, and was already clocked at around $7 billion in 2015, there’s no denying that — at least where healthcare is concerned —  the robots are coming.  

Basic labor robots created by companies like Aethon have already been used to fetch, carry, and deliver supplies wherever they’re needed. In theory, a doctor or nurse can order the supplies they need through a conveniently-placed medical tablet, nearby computer on wheels, or even their mobile phone, and the labor robot will retrieve it. No need to go scrounging for a catheter or a new set of rubber gloves: the clinician can keep their eye on their patients while a robot does the dirty work. 

Companion robots, on the other hand, can help the elderly or infirm with difficult-to-navigate mobility situations without having to page in a nurse every five minutes. Robots like those being designed at Georgia Tech can stay in the room (or be called into the room by a separate button), and help patients walk to the bathroom, retrieve items they need, answer basic questions, and even help the patient put on or remove their hospital gown. 

Laboratory robots like those created by ABB have been used in medical labs to do repetitive and mind-numbing tasks like preparing slides, mixing, loading and clearing centrifuges, sterile equipment kitting, and any other low-effort but high-volume tasks no one wants to perform. After implementing these robots in the lab at the Texas Medical Center, ABB’s President of Robots and Discrete Automation said this about the successful implementation: 

“The next-generation laboratory processes developed in Houston will speed manual medical laboratory processes, reducing and eliminating bottlenecks in laboratory work and enhancing safety and consistency.” – Sami Atiya

Though not exactly designed to alleviate a doctor’s direct workload, there are even robots that can disinfect entire operating or exam rooms. Robots like the Xenex Germ-Zapping Robot are sent into a room, where they patrol with an extended UV lamp. This lamp kills a huge amount of dangerous microorganisms and pathogens, making the room safer. And with nosocomial infections taking up so much hospital time and so many resources, this kind of robot frees up clinician time in a more indirect (but still incredibly useful) way. 

What Does the Future of Non-Surgical Robots Look Like?

The future of non-surgical, cooperative robots in the hospital, doctor’s office, and other healthcare centers is bright. 

First off, any of the robots we’ve already mentioned will be far more advanced even in the near future, just a few years out. Labor robots will benefit from more sophisticated integration with existing medical tablet-based inventory systems. They’ll also be faster and more steady, and will likely be able to hand more delicate items for delivery (and possibly even unpackaging and readying for the doctor or nurse who requested the information).

Pharmaceutical robots are already being tested who can mix dosages and even deliver the drugs bedside to the patients. When linked up to the patient’s EMR profile, these robots will even be able to catch dosage or drug interaction snafus that might have otherwise been disastrous. They can act as a safety net, protecting nurses and doctors from completely human but potentially dangerous mistakes.

Diagnostic robots wouldn’t replace doctors, but they would be able to use machine learning and facial recognition-type software to spot common signs of things like stroke, skin cancer, heart disease, and genetic disorders. And, of course, feeding this same robot (or just a medical computer equipped with the software) the patient’s history and complaints allow it to scan thousands (or millions) of similar records to find likely commonalities. 

While even a few years ago this might have all seemed like pie-in-the-sky science-fiction musings, this kind of research, development, and testing is already underway in one form or another.

The Robot Invasion

Don’t worry — the robots won’t be eliminating our jobs and sending us into work camps any time soon. In fact, these kinds of robotic helpers will instead allow doctors and nurses to spend more time doing what they love and are passionate about instead of tedious or irritating little tasks. 

This increase of satisfaction could prevent physician burnout on a large scale and inspire more to enter the medical profession, knowing they’re getting the help they need in the least attractive areas of the job.

If you want to learn more about the kind of healthcare technology and medical computers that can increase efficiency in hospitals and health centers everywhere, contact the experts at Cybernet today.