Robots Taking Over the Healthcare Industry. Robots are new in the healthcare industry, and some believe they will negatively affect human jobs.

Glossary:

  • Medical Robot - Any robot that is used for medical sciences.
  • Digital Economy - an economy that is based on new technology including computers and anything digital.
  • Nanorobot - a small machine used to perform a small and specific job.
  • Minimally Invasive Surgery - a surgery involving a series of small incisions instead of large incisions to operate on the patient.
  • Exoskeleton - a wearable machine that allow a living thing to move easier and / or be stronger.
  • Robot - a machine that can perform tasks or a series of tasks automatically, usually programed through a computer.
  • Unemployment: a state someone is in when they do not have a job.
  • AI (Artificial Intelligence): A branch of technology that involved making computers that act like humans.

What can medical robots do?

These are models of the TUG robot designed by Aethon, that help doctors and nurses transport materials around hospitals.

Medical robots have many uses, from as little as distributing medicine to high risk jobs like performing surgeries. New robots are being created around the world to assist healthcare professionals. The article, “UAE's First Robot Pharmacy – This Is How Robotics Will Change Healthcare In Near Future” by Zee Media Bureau introduces a robot that, “can store up to 35,000 medicines and dispense around 12 prescriptions in less than a minute, which would reduce customers' waiting time significantly.” Some healthcare robots are used for extremely simple tasks, like dispensing medicine. Human workers can do this, but robots can do it quicker and more accurately, which puts less work on the pharmacist or doctor. While some robots only assist medical professionals, others have larger roles in the medical field like actually performing surgeries. An article from Medgadget, “Global Robotic Surgery Market To Record An Impressive Growth Rate During Forecast 2020” defined robotic surgery as a “method of use of robotic arms to perform surgery. Robotic surgery is a computer controlled minimally invasive surgical procedure. Some of the advantages for surgeons of robotic surgery are greater visualization, enhanced dexterity and greater precision. Robotic surgery helps patient to reduce hospital stay, postoperative complications and pain, blood loss and transfusions.” Some robots have much more advanced skills, so they can perform minimally invasive surgery. This process involves multiple small cuts instead of one large one. This means the robot is able to work in small cuts whereas the human doctor has to work through a larger incision. Because the robots have different skills, they have caught the attention of many hospitals, pharmacies and companies around the world.

Where are the robots being used?

A surgical robot called the de Vinci robot created by an American company called Intuitive Surgery.

Healthcare robots are being used more and more in hospitals, pharmacies, and companies, especially in the U.S. Many business analysts are studying the markets to find trends involving healthcare robots. According to Wendell Chun, the principal analyst in a Business Wire article, “By 2021 robots will be a growing presence in the healthcare system, surpassing 10,000 units annually… More than 200 companies are already active in various aspects of the healthcare robotics market” (Jimenez). Many healthcare companies are taking advantage of this new, revolutionary technology. Although 200 companies may seems small, the robots are growing in the healthcare system, so more and more robots will be used in more companies, hospitals, and pharmacies. Not only is this new technology growing in companies, it is growing particularly fast in the U.S. A Dow Jones newswires reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Timothy Hay believes “Right now fewer than 1,000 are actually deployed in hospitals, but several big factors are lining up to make it apparent that deployment is going to get much larger, very quickly” (Robots take over … Hospitals). In this interview, Hay explains that the “Robot Courier”, a type of robot in hospitals, is fairly uncommon in the U.S, but more companies are starting to develop more. This means that soon, many medical robots will be implemented in companies, pharmacies, and hospitals. While it may seem that there are not very many robots in the healthcare industry currently, the market may be growing.

Is the market for healthcare robots expanding?

This surgical robot, the de Vinci robot was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000.

The market for healthcare robots is expanding rapidly because new companies are adapting. When the profits in big robotics companies start decreasing, they look for alternate opportunities to increase their earnings. Timothy Hay, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, believes “One of the top robotics companies in the world, iRobot, based in Massachusetts, is facing a cash crunch from one of its main customers the military, as military spending is often being cut on capitol hill. They’re afraid that one of their top customers might be scaling back, so they’re looking for new line of business to get into and have decided on healthcare.” This is an example of just one company that has realized the potential of the medical robot market. They know that the market is expanding, so they have decided to take their company down a different route to make money. iRobot is not the only company expected to expand in the digital economy. Tractica, an intelligence agency that researches human interactions with technology, found that the revenue for the market for medical robots, including rehab robots, robots used for surgery, and assistant robots in hospitals, will expand from $1.7 billion to $2.8 billion. The agency predicts that this will happen from 2016 to 2021 at an average growth rate of 9.7% (“Healthcare Robotics”). Because the revenue in the healthcare robot market is growing, more robotics companies might try to change or add onto their businesses to get in on the large amount of money. Although the rapidly growing market for medical robotics is attracting new companies, many new controversies involving robots’ efficiency and accuracy compared to humans have surfaced.

Are robots better / more efficient than human workers?

A robot in a new smart pharmacy in the United Arab Emirates created to dispense medicine.

Healthcare robots are superior to human workers because they are more accurate obedient, and cheaper. Some pharmacies and hospitals have started taking advantage of the new technology. A smart pharmacy in the United Arab Emirates is starting to deploy robots to dispense prescribed medication when the customer pressed a button. This would get rid of human error (UAE's First Robot Pharmacy – This Is How Robotics Will Change Healthcare In Near Future!). Human pharmacy workers take longer and could make mistakes when handling and distributing medicine. When robots are thrown into the mix, medications can be dispensed faster and more accurately than humans. Not only are robots almost error free, they are able to do any work at any time. Timothy Hay, a Dow Jones newswires reporter for the Wall Street Journal, explains, “It's the same argument that has been used for a long time: they don’t get sick, they don’t take cigarette breaks … and they do what they’re told.” If robots don’t need to be payed, are able to work at all times, and do whatever work they are told to do without hesitation or argument, hospitals might replace humans with them in order to cut costs. Medical robots are more efficient than human workers, and could take many low wage jobs from humans in the future.

How will healthcare robots affect human jobs?

The de Vinci surgical robot was designed to perform complex minimally invasive surgeries.

Some believe most robots are supposed to assist doctors and nurses only, but others believe robots are taking jobs from humans. The jobs of many nurses would be simplified if they had an assistant to run errands and lift heavier objects for them. One assistant nursing professor, Margie Molloy, explains “We are not trying to replace nurses, … [we are] trying to create a safer environment for healthcare providers”(Jimenez). If many robots are only there to create a safe workplace for medical professionals, the jobs of nurses and doctors will be positively affected. While some believe many robots are only created to assist healthcare professionals, other evidence points the other way. Healthcare personnel and physicians are becoming more and more rare as the population ages, so healthcare professionals are looking to robots. They are attracted to robots because they cut costs, do mundane work, and are more accurate (“Healthcare Robotics”). Some argue that because robots not only cheaper, but better workers, many nurses will be replaced. Although a controversy over how robots will affect jobs is growing within the healthcare industry, the rapid deployment of healthcare robots ensures an answer very shortly.

Created By
Mollie O'Loughlin
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