When the coronavirus burst onto the scene, healthcare professionals and robotics experts partnered to implement out-of-the-box solutions to pressing needs. In Wuhan, China, a test-run of a field hospital staffed by robots took place. The machines, provided by tech company CloudMinds, delivered necessities and medicines and even entertained patients.
The results were promising. Speaking of the potential of robotics in healthcare, CloudMinds CEO Bill Huang said, “Robots can assist in minimizing instances of contact for medical staff, reducing the chances of exposure, and lowering the risk of contamination/infection.”
The need for solutions like these is especially clear in the midst of a public health crisis, but are robotics part of a sustainable urban future even after the coronavirus subsides? That will depend on the role of robotics in hospitals as well as the pros and cons they offer providers.
The role of robotics in hospitals
Robotics has already been introduced in the healthcare sector to great effect. From the da Vinci Surgical System to pharmacy robots in Dubai, these smart tools are transforming healthcare to offer unprecedented care solutions and cost savings. These automated systems have sustainability implications as well, as they could alter the resource usage of modern hospitals.
Healthcare robotics takes on many roles. These include:
- Rehabilitation medicine
- Mobile logistics
With a wide range of automated tasks and processes, robotics enable care professionals to focus on providing better care. Because of this, the sky’s the limit on what can be achieved with the help of robotics.
Take, for instance, the prevalence of the da Vinci Surgical System in modern hospitals. This tool offers minimally invasive surgical options through the assistance of robotics. Surgeons still guide the tool, but the da Vinci system translates their motions into more flexible and adaptable instruments. This offers surgeons greater control complete with highly magnified 3D views of the surgical area.
Robotic assistance has helped craft effective care solutions for millions already. Yet, there is still a question of whether these tools will be more positive or negative for the sustainability of the hospitals that integrate them.
Robotics for Hospital Sustainability: pros and cons
Like any innovation, the application of robotic technology in healthcare comes with benefits and drawbacks. Luckily, the benefits are plenty transparent and will likely shape the future of healthcare. Here are just a few:
Healthcare jobs are safe from automation
One of the greatest concerns in the adoption of automated systems is the displacement of human workers. Due to its vital human element, the healthcare sector is one of the few that are safe from the mass displacements caused by automation.
Robotics can help reduce waste and resources
CloudMind demonstrated how robotics can play a role in treating patients with a contagious illness. These robots limited the exposure of human beings in a dangerous environment and did not require the use of valuable personal protective equipment during a global shortage of these materials.
With an estimated 30% of healthcare expenditures going towards waste, reducing this bill while keeping staff safe will be a key element of hospital sustainability moving forward.
Improved safety, quality, and efficiency of care
Finally, robots are not liable to human error unless those errors are baked into the programming. The risk of robotic malfunction is as low as 0.1%.
With the right assistive tech, the risk of malpractice or accident from overworked surgeons and doctors can be minimized. This has the potential to increase the quality of care for all patients.
With positives like these, it is hard to imagine a future in which the use of robotics in hospitals is no longer seen as a sustainable practice. However, the drawbacks must be addressed first.
Like anything assembled by the human hand, robots are not perfect. Everything from technical malfunctions to associated costs can represent significant barriers to the sustainable use of robotics within a hospital. These challenges can be obstacles towards greater care solutions, but they are perhaps not without their fixes.
Here are some of the common drawbacks of robotics in terms of hospital sustainability:
Care providers could be legally responsible for malfunctioning robotics
Malpractice is one of the greatest concerns of the medical field. With the long hours and high-stress environments that care providers face, making a simple mistake can be all too easy and can warrant massive legal fines at best and loss of life that worst.
While robotics can help avoid such a possibility, a failure of the technology under a physician’s supervision can still result in a malpractice case. At the point that you agree to accept a doctor’s care, they have to provide care within the standards of their profession. The performance of the robot then falls under the responsibility of the physician.
Robotics takes practice and time away from trainees
One expert found that the use of robotics to assist in surgeries had a prevalent drawback of taking educational experiences away from surgeons in training. This begs the question: are these assistive tools sustainable long-term if it means a loss of human knowledge and expertise?
Robotics has the potential to make life easier in all kinds of ways. However, if this leads to a less skilled workforce, robotics may not be the best solution for care facilities.
Robotics comes with a hefty price tag
Robotics does not come cheap, and it may be years if not decades before hospitals begin to see a real return on investment for this assistive tech. The coronavirus caused a loss in revenue for hospitals in the range of $202 billion. At a time like this, hospitals may find themselves hard-pressed to provide the funding for robotic systems.
Implementing robotics in hospitals is not a seamless task. Challenges like these and more abound in the successful use of healthcare robotics. However, steps can be taken to mitigate these problems through comprehensive cybersecurity, new training techniques through virtual reality, and even new manufacturing processes that allow for reduced costs of healthcare technology.
These factors may call into question the long-term sustainability of hospitals as they currently function, but with the right accommodations, there is no reason robotics will not be an aspect of the future of hospitals in the long term.
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