The world of robotics has achieved significant milestones, revolutionising industries by supporting humans in hazardous and repetitive tasks. The heart-warming portrayal of Disney+'s Baymax has inspired countless individuals with its vision of a future where robots serve as healthcare-providing nurses. Hospitals and clinics are witnessing the transformative power of robots as they perform laborious and time-consuming tasks, alleviating the burdens faced by healthcare professionals in an ever-evolving landscape.
In many ways, this future is already here, thanks to remarkable advances in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). During the COVID-19 pandemic, Queensland Health in Australia harnessed advanced data analytics solutions for timely and efficient insights-driven decision making. Effective management of public health safety were made possible by leveraging mobility data that provided health departments access into when, why and how Australian populations were moving.
While COVID-19 has transitioned to endemic status in many countries, its impact on healthcare workers remains profound. A July 2021 study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health revealed heightened levels of anxiety, burnout and depression among Singaporean General Practitioners compared to pre-pandemic times. With a recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to travel resumption, hospitals in Asia face the looming threat of strain once again.
Singapore’s healthcare industry in the future will also face challenges stemming from an aging population, resulting in a limited labour force. Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that the world will see a shortfall of 10 million healthcare workers by 2030 .
Why robots and humans must collaborate
Given the increasing challenges faced by the healthcare sector, the integration of robotics is inevitable in the coming years. According to Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat at the Centre for Healthcare Innovation’s Innovate 2022 conference , innovation, including 5G robots, will be instrumental in balancing the iron triangle of cost, accessibility, and quality of healthcare.
Robots and automation solutions have a critical role to play, leveraging their capabilities to perform tasks suited to their strengths. This enables the healthcare workforce to focus on the vital aspect of providing the “human touch” in healthcare services. In particular, healthcare providers should consider using robots for the following use cases:
- Optimising operations and enhancing patient satisfaction: Robots can perform regular examinations and non-medical tasks, ensuring prompt attention to patients and optimising operational efficiency.
- Streamlining medication management: Robotic medication dispensing systems automate the prescription preparation process, reducing patient waiting times and freeing up pharmacists.
- Ensuring hygiene standards: Automation of disinfection and cleaning in healthcare facilities increases employee productivity and maintains impeccable hygiene standards.
Imagining the future: robotics and patient care
Today, science fiction meets reality as trials of a robotic nursing assistant Florence are taking place in public hospitals across Singapore and beyond. Florence excels in various tasks, including measuring vital signs, synchronising real-time patient data, delivering medications and snacks, and facilitating interaction between patients and staff through its built-in touchscreen.
Robotic nursing assistants like Florence are poised to become invaluable assets in healthcare institutions, as it is estimated that the assistant led to a 17 percent increase in nursing productivity. They can work longer shifts without rest or sustenance, provide equitable treatment to all patients, and attend to infected individuals without the risk of transmission.
Imagine having a Robot Health Manager to perform remote surveillance to detect unwell persons using audio and video analytics, assist healthcare professionals to quickly isolate patients with highly contagious diseases or prioritise medical attention. Imagination is now reality – today’s advanced self-navigating robots can identify Persons of Interest (POI), provide contactless monitoring of vital signs including temperature and heart rate, and use sound and gesture sensors to detect coughing.
Where do robots go from here?
The potential for robotics in patient care is immense and poised to revolutionise healthcare delivery. With the wider deployment of 5G technology, robotics and AI will transcend rudimentary roles, contributing in sophisticated ways.
Robotics in patient care will very likely transform the way we deliver care. The notion of robot-assisted surgeries, once confined to the realm of science fiction, can become a reality through continuous innovation and thoughtful integration into the patient care ecosystem.