5 Types of Healthcare Robotics That are Changing the Industry

There are several different types of robots in healthcare, of differing shapes, sizes, functions, and levels of complexity. Everything from exceedingly complex surgical robots to much more compact service robots is used in healthcare to enhance patient care and improve the care experience for clinicians. This week we wanted to briefly highlight 5 types of healthcare robots that can be found in hospitals and are changing the industry.

  1. Surgical robots: These are advanced robots that can perform precise surgical procedures with a high degree of accuracy and consistency. These robots are controlled by trained surgeons who operate them from a console, allowing them to perform minimally invasive surgeries with superhuman precision. This in turn has been shown to reduce the risk of complications and to promote faster recovery times.

Surgical robots are used when extreme precision is beneficial or when surgery is needed in a place where hands can’t fit. Typically, these bots feature some type of high-quality camera, usually on a controllable mechanical arm, that provides the surgeon with a clear magnified view of the site being operated on. Alongside these cameras, is a suite of several different types of surgery tools on controllable robotic arms, which allow the surgeon a great deal of freedom in movement and utility. Surgical robotics is becoming the standard of care for surgical procedures pertaining to the heart, digestive system, bladder, prostate, and specific gynecologic procedures.

It’s important to note that while the surgeon is usually operating the robot via a set of hand controls, they are usually doing it in the same room. Additionally, there are usually other team members on site ready to render aid in any way they can. This is why it’s often referred to as robot-assisted surgery; because it’s still a surgeon and their team operating, just with robotic assistance.

  1. Service robots: Service robots fulfill a wide variety of roles in a hospital, most notably hunting for and gathering various resources, assisting with patient education, and delivering supplies. Robots can operate at all hours, ensuring the execution of certain tasks despite the time or day. These robots can help to reduce the workload of healthcare staff, allowing these more highly trained staff to focus on more complex tasks.

Tasks that these robots can take care of in place of a human staff member include things like food delivery, linen distribution, gathering supplies such as dressing change kits and telemetry boxes, and the secure collection and delivery of labs or medications. Nurses spend 36% of their time on these no-value-added tasks, and when a standard nurse work week is three 12-hour shifts, that means that on average more than one shift is wasted on these tasks alone. Think of the efficiency that nurses could gain by spending this time with their patients instead.

  1. Pharmacy robots: For many years pharmacy robots have been selecting bar-coded unit-dose medications, specific to individual patients, by acting as medication technicians. This has proved to be highly successful at saving pharmacy techs time collecting and packaging patient-specific medications. So successfully that these robots have become standard practice in hospital pharmacies everywhere.

Pharmacy robots could be even more beneficial when combined with other emerging technologies. For example, when pharmacy robots integrate with delivery robots, the selection, packaging, and delivery of medications could literally be automated. This would once again allow us to upskill the human staff to higher functioning roles and hand off the lower value (yet very important) tasks to robots.

  1. Social robots: Social robots are designed to interact with humans in social settings or with a regularity that couldn’t otherwise be found. These robots can be found in home care scenarios to provide companionship and support to patients, who may be (or at risk of being) isolated, often this is the elderly. Additionally, companion robots may be used in situations where quarantine is necessary as a way to interact with, and stimulate, contagious patients. Some of these robots also have the potential to aid neuro-divergent populations by helping to model behavior that should be emulated, this is a growing area of robots that are being used with children with autism.
  2. Cleaning & Sanitization robots: sanitization robots automate the cleaning and sanitization of a wide variety of environments. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw the introduction of UV-C robots, which use short intense bursts of ultraviolet light to sanitize environments and kill 99.9% of viruses. While not an end-all-be-all solution to sanitization, it’s an inspired step toward a solution. Cleaning robots can also be seen in hospitals, as well as grocery stores and airports, independently cleaning floors on a scheduled basis.

Overall, these types of robots are changing healthcare by improving the accuracy of surgical procedures, delivering healthcare services remotely, streamlining the delivery of medications and supplies, and providing companionship and support to specific populations.