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Contrary to popular belief, service robots in the healthcare industry and medical field have already been practiced since the 1980s. The first medical service robots helped healthcare professionals through surgical assistance via robotic arm technologies.
With groundbreaking technology and new artificial intelligence developments, medical service robots are deployed in various sectors of the healthcare industry to assist healthcare workers, provide direct patient care, and help maintain safe work environments.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at why service robots are needed in healthcare and how they can help in the whole medical field of things.
As robotic technologies, autonomous intelligent systems, and artificial intelligence continue to advance, healthcare service robots become more embedded in the healthcare industry. These healthcare service robots are becoming more evolved, and certain tasks are better done by them because of their precision, robotic systems, and advanced intelligent systems.
The type of service robot used will depend on the functions, systems, and tasks that can be performed by it. In the healthcare industry, these are the common service robots used because of what functions and assistance they can provide that are useful to the medical field — both patients and healthcare workers.
As surgical robotics advance and improve so does the precision of surgical robots. Using motion control technologies, artificial intelligence technologies, and computer vision-capable technologies, surgical robots are able to assist surgeons to a certain degree of precision and accuracy that otherwise would have been too complex for human medical staff and healthcare professionals to perform on their own. An example of a service robot that can perform surgeries is the DOF Robotic Arm Manipulator.
While most surgical robots assist surgeons and healthcare professionals, there are also service robots that are able to perform surgeries autonomously while surgeons simply oversee the procedure from a console.
Robotic surgery can be categorized into two:
A service robot that performs minimally invasive surgeries does so by inserting itself through a small incision, locking itself in place, and creating a stable platform where it can perform the surgery while being controlled by the surgeon via remote control. These types of surgeries are usually done for robotic hysterectomy, bariatric surgery, robotic prostatectomy, and other procedures that are focused on soft tissues.
With the help of service robots, the procedure and recovery time of these surgeries are greatly reduced. These service robots also help in making the procedures easier and because of the accuracy, reduce the chances of infections and other complications to occur.
With surgical service robots being precise and accurate, they are able to perform a few orthopedia procedures like knee and hip replacements. This is made possible thanks to smart robotic arms, 3D imaging, and data analytics that help a surgical service robot be more precise.
Aside from performing or assisting in surgeries, service robots under this category are also able to make use of artificial intelligence and computer vision technologies to provide high-definition 3D computer vision needed for detailed information during procedures. A service robot would be able to differentiate the various types of tissues, nerves, and muscles with the help of these computer vision technologies.
These surgical service robots in healthcare also serve as AI simulation training grounds for healthcare professionals training to be surgeons. Such robots are able to provide simulations and virtual environments that will allow surgeons in training to practice procedures and hone their skills using robotics controls.
As the technology that enables surgical service robots to perform and assist in procedures improves, we can expect more hospitals to widen their scope of procedures. Hospitals in China, for example, are beginning clinical trials of surgical service robots in gynecology which is said to be cost-effective yet accurate for all.
While modular robots are often seen as industrial robots, modular service robots in the healthcare industry serve as therapeutic exoskeleton robots. Modular medical robots help make up prosthetic robotic arms and legs and help rehabilitate patients with stroke, paralysis, traumatic brain injuries, and impairments brought by sclerosis.
These modular medical robots are able to help with patient monitoring since some of them are also equipped with AI and depth cameras to keep track of a patient’s prescribed exercises and progress in therapy. In a way, these modular medical robots act as smart wearable technologies that can provide accurate data while being able to assist patients in their recovery.
There are plenty of hospitals and medical clinics that make use of autonomous mobile robots. These types of medical robots are being deployed because of their numerous functions and service robotics capabilities, such as disinfecting areas, telepresence, and making deliveries. The function of these medical robots will depend on the purpose and technology that their manufacturers placed into them.
A common function of an AMR robot in the medical field is to act as a disinfection robot. Depending on the technology and features installed in the disinfection robot, this will generally be able to clean and sanitize work environments and patient rooms — an essential task especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
AMR medical robots can also perform an on-screen consultation with patients as doctors and medical staff perform their rounds. AMR medical robots equipped with motion sensors, thermal sensors, a pulsed UVC device, and sick safety laser scanners can help in measuring the vital signs of patients which can be useful to the medical staff at the moment of consultation.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the RoomieBot would triage patients by taking their temperature, blood oxygen level, and medical history as soon as they would arrive at the hospital. Not only did this help in reducing potential infectious human interaction, but it helped ease the workflow of things for healthcare workers.
AMR medical robots can be further categorized into two kinds: service robots and social robots.
From the root word alone, service robots “serve” humans. May it be the medical staff, patients, or visitors, service robots aim to help relieve the burden of routine logistical tasks and perform errands with possible risks and safety hazards.
A service robot may be able to help clean, sanitize, and set up patient rooms before use. One of the first disinfecting service robots is the UVD robot. A hospital in Searcy is currently using a UV disinfection robot, the LightStike UV disinfection robot, to clean and sanitize rooms. With a stricter standard of sanitation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, using a UV disinfection robot is becoming a norm that not only makes it safer for patients but for healthcare workers as well.
In order to automate the UV disinfection process safely, disinfection robots are equipped with certain service robotics technologies and features. Disinfection robots use ultraviolet light disinfection (UV light), hydrogen peroxide vapors, and at times air filtration technologies to further enhance their reach in disinfecting areas thus, help keep patients, visitors, and healthcare workers safe from germs, bacteria, and passable infections such as the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Similar to commercial service robots, routine logistical tasks can also be accomplished by a medical service robot. When programmed and trained, service robots can perform a series of tasks that can help free up the time of healthcare workers so they can focus on other duties that require human interaction and care. Service robots can keep track of supplies, alert medical staff if certain medical supplies and stocks are running low, and even restock medical supply cabinets themselves.
Other service robots can also file purchase orders, deliver medicine, and transport items to patient rooms, thus freeing up the time of human staff so they can focus on patient care.
From the word “social” alone, social robots are those that provide emotional support in patient care, help increase the morale of the staff, and contribute to the overall well-being of those they are able to interact with. Social robots are seen as “friendly” medical robots as they directly engage in human-robot interaction.
Given the human-robot interaction element, social robots are often misconstrued as strictly humanoid robots or human robots. However, social robots need simply to engage in human interaction for them to be categorized as one.
Social robots can provide care to patients and help healthcare staff in encouraging slightly more challenging patients to comply with certain treatments and procedures. Nursing robots are great at this particular task and they also provide an element of cognitive engagement and a bit of “entertainment” for patients.
There are also social or nursing robots, such as Grace the Robot Nurse, that are lifelike and specialize in providing care to elderly patients. Nursing robots such as Grace aid in talk therapy. Socially isolated patients also benefit from these social robots because they still get much-needed “human” interaction — such was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social robots are also intelligent robots that can answer questions visitors and patients throw at them. They can greet visitors and provide directions to patients’ rooms. Although it’s great to have a human staff to answer these questions, instances such as the COVID-19 pandemic show that having social robots interact with humans is sometimes safer.
Using medical robotics technologies to enhance and support the healthcare industry have great benefits and advantages for patients and workers. While human medical staff and healthcare workers are able to provide quality care and service to patients, service robots and medical robots help in further improving the standards and procedures that can be advantageous to all.
Service robots are one of the best employees to deploy when it comes to simplifying processes and clinical workflow. Similar to industrial robots, service robots, and medical robots can help in streamlining the chain of work systems and reduce the physical demands exerted by healthcare workers.
Medical robots technologies are able to program mobile robots, healthcare robots, and service robots to keep track of hospital inventory, make deliveries, restock medical supply cabinets, and place orders when need be. Service robots also help staff shortages and alleviate burnout, which was a rampant problem during the COVID-19 pandemic. With their ability to be trained and learn new tasks, service robots can be deployed where you need them to be and you are assured that they can be there 24/7.
Disinfection robots help keep hospitals and clinics safe from germ-causing diseases and infections. Hospitals and healthcare facilities have reported that using disinfection robots has helped them reduce cases of patients diagnosed with hospital-acquired infections. With that said, it’s no wonder why disinfection robots were used by many hospitals to help combat the risk of COVID-19 spreading further.
Seeing the effective results of disinfection robots, the demand for them grew so much that they have become commercial service robots. Some popular disinfection robots are the Robots BreezyOne autonomous disinfection, UVD robots, the UVC disinfection robot, mobile UVC light robots, and the LightStike UV robot.
A UV sterilization robot can also be more effective than the use of a conventional germicidal UV light because of its continuous wave irradiation system. Although using only commercial disinfection solution or the conventional commercial disinfection solution capable of killing germ-causing diseases is good, the hydrogen peroxide vapor system of the disinfecting service robots can be more effective.
Depending also on the manufacturer of these disinfecting service robots, there are certain medical robotics technologies that can fight off germ-causing diseases and sicknesses, like the ones found in COVID-19, which can be done more effectively. For example, the xenon ultraviolet device and mercury and xenon lamps are effective at decontamination because of their intensity.
Having these disinfection service robots clean and sanitize patient rooms, hospitals, and common areas certainly provide much-needed assurance and comfort needed by patients, workers, and visitors.
The level of patient care and medical assistance given by robots in healthcare is definitely high-quality and modernized.
With surgical robotics, service robots are able to assist surgeons and medical professionals in performing certain procedures that may be more difficult to accomplish accurately with just the human eye. Patients can also enjoy reduced surgery and recovery time thanks to these surgical service robots.
Service robots, social robots, and humanoid robots can also provide direct patient care 24/7. Personal service robots can be stationed in patient rooms to act as caregivers or emotional support systems.
A service robot can also become a human support robot that can help man the concierge or information desk system. This helps alleviate the workload of human medical staff.
Mobile robots and service robots can also be equipped with medical robotics technologies and features that help with the customized and frequent monitoring of patients. When doctors and nurses go around patient rooms, these healthcare robots can help record patient data. Using a sensor electronics module and ultrasonic and optical sensors designed for healthcare and medical purposes, these service robots can be an asset to have beside as professionals make their rounds.
During the onset of COVID-19, medical service robots thrived and proved to be successful in many aspects. From acting as a human-support robot to socially isolated COVID-19 patients and workers to providing a sense of safety by disinfecting patient rooms, there were lots of ways healthcare workers were helped by service robots.
Perhaps the biggest way service robots helped healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic was by alleviating them from performing risky tasks. At the time, COVID-19 was highly infectious and can be passed on through human interaction. With that, service robots were able to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for healthcare workers by performing a series of tasks for them.
From the entrance, service robots can already check the temperature of patients and visitors. They can also check and sort possible COVID-19 patients so healthcare workers can minimize their interaction with them as much as possible while still giving them the proper care that they need.
Speaking of interaction, COVID-19 patients are socially isolated. With that, not even healthcare workers can stay with them in rooms for a long period of time. Service robots can provide them with company and entertainment that can help keep their spirits high. The same thing goes with healthcare workers who may not have been able to go back home to their families and loved ones at the risk of exposing them to COVID-19. These service robots provided them with a sense of comfort and helped with their emotional well-being.
To also reduce interaction back then, service robots can be used for online consultations between doctors and COVID-19 patients. Now as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be managed, these service robots still help in aiding online consultations.
One of the most important jobs of service robots during the COVID-19 pandemic and in reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 is their task to disinfect areas. As COVID-19 is highly infectious and can easily be spread, the task of cleaning rooms, common areas, and hospitals was one that was feared by my healthcare workers. The risk of exposure to COVID-19 was high and so service robots were the ones for the job.
Using advanced cleaning and sanitizing technology, disinfecting service robots would precisely sanitize rooms free from COVID-19. The technology of these service robots was so effective that other germ-causing diseases aside from COVID-19 were also reduced and rates of hospital-acquired infections went down.
Staff shortages and employee burnout were also at an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic. Service robots helped alleviate this and assist healthcare workers to carry on with tasks. With the big advantage of service robots not being able to get infected with COVID-19, they can be placed in areas and stations with high exposure. At the time of COVID-19, service robots also helped ease streamlining workflows and processes that alleviated much of the physical work and logistical tasks of healthcare workers.
As a service robot is a freely programmable kinematic device that can semi- or fully perform tasks automatically, employing one in the healthcare industry and the medical field is truly beneficial for both the workers and patients.
Hopefully, with more progress and studies in sensor and actuator development and medical robotics technologies, service robots in the healthcare industry will soon be a norm in many more hospitals and clinics across the globe.