Medical robots are helping healthcare professionals provide smarter, more comprehensive care to their patients. The healing process can be long and emotionally exhausting, especially when nurses and healthcare teams are spread so thin.
Medical robots can help fill in the gaps and transform the healing process for patients and caretakers alike. Some incredible innovations have been made over recent years that are allowing medical robots to revolutionize healthcare.
1. Nursing Robots
As of 2021, the U.S. is short thousands of nurses in every state, and the shortage is only projected to get worse over the next decade. There are simply not enough nurses to meet the needs of every single patient, even though nurses work extremely hard. Nursing robots are helping out short-staffed teams.
Nurses have to perform many basic tasks countless times every day, such as drawing blood and monitoring vital signs. These are important tasks, but the sheer volume of this type of task is physically and emotionally stressful for nurses. Today’s medical robots can perform several of these routine tasks.
For example, a venipuncture robot can produce a 3D image of a patient’s arm to show a nurse exactly where their vein is, making it much easier and faster to draw blood. This improves the patient experience as well, since needles can be painful and even frightening for many people.
Nursing robots can also autonomously monitor patient vitals and help with things like lifting and transferring patients. Assigning a robot to the task frees up immense amounts of time for nurses, allowing them to provide better care.
2. Sanitation Robots
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically increased the importance of sanitizing and disinfecting care spaces. Consistently high-quality disinfection is vital in today’s healthcare centers and crucial to the healing process.
For example, it could be life-threatening if a patient recovering from surgery contracted a virus while staying in the hospital. Deep cleaning requires dedicated staff and extensive amounts of time, though – two things that are in high demand in today’s healthcare world.
Medical robots are perfect for sanitizing and disinfection. This is a task that is straightforward and monotonous, requiring minimal skill. By assigning a UV disinfection robot to cleaning duty, maintenance workers are able to focus on more important tasks, such as repairs or cleaning up spills or messes.
UV disinfection robots have become the first choice for sanitizing in healthcare centers since they can kill bacteria, germs, and viruses on surfaces simply by shining a UV beam over them. The robot autonomously navigates rooms and hallways, disinfecting any surface its rays fall on.
Exoskeletons may not be the first thing that comes to mind at the word “robot,” but they are completely transforming the healing process.
This is especially true for patients recovering from injuries that require intensive physical therapy. Robotic exoskeletons act as an external set of bones and muscles, using robotics to train the body how to move properly again. These exoskeletons may even be able to help disabled people regain their mobility.
Not only does this type of medical robot help patients physically, but it can also be emotionally life-changing. Physically getting outside and moving around has been proven incredibly beneficial to the healing process, leading to reduced stress and faster recovery times.
In fact, many hospitals are beginning to add “healing gardens” to their facilities for these exact reasons. Robotic exoskeletons allow patients to physically walk around outdoors again, giving them a sense of independence and motivation that is crucial to the healing process.
4. Robotic Companions
Emotional support is an important part of the healing process. Robots have been found to be surprisingly effective at providing this emotional support to patients. Sometimes, it’s as simple as having someone to talk to or sit with. One great example of a robotic companion at work is a robot known as “Stevie”, developed by researchers at Trinity College Dublin.
In 2019, Stevie was tested in an eldercare center that was home to 300 residents at the time. The robot could have conversations with residents and even play games with them. The research team found that the residents genuinely enjoyed spending time with Stevie, even inviting him to a karaoke night.
Stevie is not just for chatting and playing cards, though. While the robot is relaxing with residents, it is also constantly monitoring them for signs of medical distress. It can recognize voice commands like “help me” and contact nursing or medical staff in an emergency.
This range of functionality is incredibly valuable for patients of all ages. A robot like this could be present throughout the healing process, providing emotional support while also ensuring safety.
5. AI Doctors and Coaches
Some of the best medical robots are actually software. AI doctors and coaches have become more common over the past couple of years as telemedicine has become mainstream.
For example, AI algorithms are helping doctors detect conditions earlier and diagnose conditions more accurately. An AI can even create a completely unique and personalized treatment plan meticulously matched with a patient’s specific needs. While AI like this is still being developed and refined, it could one day provide patients with the best diagnoses and treatment plans possible.
AI is already transforming the healing process in other ways, though. A perfect example of this is the AI coaches found in virtual reality fitness games. One of the most popular VR fitness games available today is “Supernatural,” which gets players moving with the help of an AI coach created using recordings of real trainers. Gamifying the recovery process with VR is a great way to motivate patients and improve positivity.
With games like “Supernatural,” hospital patients can exercise in incredible locations, like the top of a mountain or the edge of a waterfall, all from the safety of their hospital room.
6. Future Tech: Microbots
Looking further into the future, robots may one day be able to significantly reduce recovery times from procedures like surgeries. Scientists have been developing “microbots” for several years now. These are microscopic robots small enough to seamlessly travel through the human body performing repairs.
Rather than cutting open a patient to perform surgery, microbots would do it from the inside. Since these robots can be as small as a single human cell, they are much less likely to cause tissue damage and other issues than conventional surgery methods. Scientists believe microbots may even be able to replace some pharmaceuticals, as well.
Creating robots this small that can also be controlled with precision is extremely difficult. Researchers from all over the world are testing countless approaches to the technology. So, it may be some time before microbots become an everyday tool in medicine. When they do, though, patients will experience faster, less painful recovery times and a much more comfortable healing process.
Healing Better With Technology
Medical robots are making the healing process faster, safer, and smarter, for caretakers and patients alike. For nurses and healthcare teams, medical robots alleviate stress and staffing shortages. For patients, robots offer companionship, mobility, and personalized care.
Robotics is an industry in a constant state of evolution. This is only the beginning for medical robots, and tomorrow’s new innovations are sure to revolutionize healthcare even further by creating intuitive healing built on cutting-edge technology.