Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and robotics, patient care has a new face: AI bot nurses. They can run errands, assist patients with medications, and supplement routine patient-care tasks. These robots can help ease the burden on healthcare systems — both in times of calm and in times of global healthcare crisis.
Pandemics present an important use case for robotics in healthcare. When the world is facing a pandemic, it’s critical to reduce unsafe interactions between medical professionals and patients. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has an infection rate of 2 to 2.5 people. That’s nearly double the infection rate for the flu, which has an average spread of 1.3 people. That higher likelihood of infection is impacting the medical professionals on the frontline, with daily reports of nurses and doctors falling ill from the novel coronavirus. Provider-patient interaction is even more risky now, due to personal protective equipment shortages.
The problem remains: Doctors, nurses, and staff members still need to interact with patients to provide proper care. But how is it possible for healthcare workers to flatten the curve while providing adequate care? Here’s where robots come to the rescue.
Human and machine collaboration for smarter healthcare
Along with AI and machine learning, robotic technology can revolutionize hospital caregiving. In times of global pandemics, robots in healthcare can minimize face-to-face interactions between medical professionals and patients, creating the safest possible environment. In addition, robots don’t face the constraints of the human body: Robots don’t fall ill, they don’t need to sleep or leave the hospital, and they are not prone to human error.
However, robotics in healthcare is not only useful during crises. Healthcare systems around the world have been finding ways to integrate robot helpers into normal patient care. Robots can supplement healthcare work in the following major ways:
- Patient monitoring: When it’s not possible for a human to monitor patients 24/7, robots are up to the task. They can also alert medical staff when patients have emergency needs.
- Routine patient-care tasks: Robots are capable of taking patients’ vitals such as blood pressure, sugar levels, and temperature. The information is automatically updated for the medical staff to evaluate.
- Medications: Robots can help patients with mediations by monitoring intake, sending notification reminders, and assisting with self-injections.
- Language: Using translation and speech technology, robots can overcome language barriers with patients, allowing healthcare workers to arrive at useful insights more quickly.
- Basic, repetitive care routines: When patients need repetitive care routines, robots can provide guidance and accountability. Robots are able to support patients through mental exercises, physical routines, and meditation techniques.
- Emotional support: Some in the healthcare industry have been surprised by how positively patients respond to a robot’s presence. One robot named Moxi, deployed in Texas hospitals, was such a hit with patients that it was given more roaming tasks each hour so it could interact with more people. AI-enabled bot nurses can engage in friendly conversations with patients and staff, play calming music, or even share motivational or religious messages.
Beyond complementing direct patient care, there are many other ways robots can support healthcare systems. Other robots can be put to work by sorting, sanitizing, and delivering medical supplies to different departments. This aid can be invaluable during a pandemic such as COVID-19; the less human hands that touch an item, the better.
Even though there are many benefits to integrating robots into the global healthcare system, AI-enabled robots can’t replace human-provided care. Instead, the robots perform routine tasks in order to free up time and energy for humans to focus on more essential duties. In Moxi’s case, nurses were able to send the bot to complete chores so they could spend more time providing more specialized care. Freeing up space in providers’ mental capacities is valuable no matter what problems they’re tackling.
How AI-enabled robots help healthcare systems provide better patient care
These bots are not just concepts or prototypes. Robots have been aiding medical professionals across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re only witnessing the beginning of their potential to revolutionize healthcare in the long term. Here are a few ways robotics have impacted healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Temperature-taking robots
Fever is one of the most prominent symptoms of the novel coronavirus, so taking every patient’s temperature quickly is crucial. Still, it’s a potential exposure point for frontline healthcare workers. The Smart Field Hospital in Wuhan, China, utilized robots to take incoming patients’ temperatures with 5G thermometers. Then all patients were outfitted with smart bracelets and smart rings that monitor temperature, blood-oxygen levels, and heart rate. That information was pushed to doctors so they could review it and check for abnormalities.
These smart devices relieved medical professionals from routine vitals checks, keeping doctors and nurses from direct contact with sick patients. Bot nurses can do what no medical professional can -- safely keep tabs on patients and alert nurses and doctors when there’s an emergency.
2. Delivery robots
Robots provide a human-less option for last-step drug and food delivery to hospital patients, which can be vital in pandemic situations. A robot named Little Peanut delivered food to flight passengers who entered China, minimizing person-to-person contact. The robot even spoke to those in quarantine, letting them know how to message the staff using WeChat if they needed anything else.
Smart Field Hospital also utilized these robots to deliver meals and medicine, limiting the amount of time doctors and nurses spent in patients’ rooms. When medical facilities are full, robots are a valuable, time-saving solution.
3. Robots for teleconferencing
Healthcare workers involved in the U.S.’s first case of COVID-19 at the Regional Medical Center in Washington relied on robot teleconferencing. Doctors could communicate with the patient and take vitals, like listening to the heart and lungs -- in isolation through the robot. This technology allows providers to ask questions and listen to the patient while maintaining a safe distance and preventing viral spread.
4. Robot cleaners
UV light robots disinfect high-risk infection areas before hospital personnel begin to sanitize rooms or change bed sheets. China and Italy deployed these bots to limit the spread of COVID-19. The robots emit a powerful UV light that can tear the virus DNA apart. On just one charge, the bots can disinfect 9 to 10 rooms. The robot reduces risk for medical staff and future patients, as well as speeding up the time it takes to prepare rooms when the system is overburdened.
The healthcare system continues to improve its ability to deliver safe and comprehensive care. Robots are becoming a bigger piece of that puzzle, especially in times of crisis. And while robots have proven their value in hospitals by reducing face-to-face time with patients and still giving patients the quality care they need to recover, these examples are just the beginning for the possibilities of robotics in healthcare.
At Wipro, we have the capabilities to meet hospitals’ needs by providing robots and customizing their artificial intelligence and hardware. Interested in learning more? Let’s talk.