Originally Published: MedTech Boston

Meet Your New Colleague: The Service Bot

The use of service robots is a fairly new and dynamic aspect of the care environment.  Of the various types of robots, service robots are poised to make considerable impact in the patient care environment by assisting the care team.  These robots are rapidly increasing their capabilities in beta-testing and will soon be deployed along the continuum of care in the settings such as acute care, home care, outpatient clinics and skilled care (Riek, 2017).

The use of robots has great potential to make some tasks safer for nurses and other members of the care team, such as safe patient handling and mobility, as well as handling hazardous agents and chemotherapy.  Robots, as part of the care team, can improve the efficiency of time spent on frequent, although “low value” activities, such as the “hunting and gathering” and delivering of equipment and supplies.

The impact to nursing should not be underestimated and there are many questions to be considered prior to nurses working with service robots in the care environment.  Some of these questions include; how is the robot “socialized” among the care team and to patients, how is the robot’s work assigned and tracked or even what is the role of a robot in a “Code Blue” scenario?

Nurses working alongside robots should also become familiar with their capabilities, as well as their limitations, and learn how to leverage robots as a means to improving care delivery efficiency.  Nurses will find that service robots are capable of “hunting and gathering” and delivering equipment and supplies, which will save nurses valuable time that can be reallocated to more important direct patient care functions.  The impact of this tireless new colleague is a more efficient and targeted use of patient care time for nurses.  Robots are not replacements for their human colleagues, but rather a supplement to the team and a means to improve efficiency and safety.

We are early in the deployment of service robots on care teams, and now is the time that we should begin revising the education of new nurses by including this in programs and curricula.   As robots become a more common occurrence, the first-time new nurses see or work with a service robot team member shouldn’t be in their first job, but rather in should be discussed as part of their education and ideally experienced during a clinical rotation.  As the cost of robots as a barrier to entry improves, the utilization of robots will be more commonplace.

In addition to learning how to work with robots as team members, nurses should be included early in the process of the design and development of these types of innovations.  Nurses, along with engineers and robotics experts, have valuable insight that can leverage their knowledge to enhance the overall goals that robots can bring to the care environment.  This type of input should occur “up front” when technology and devices are in the design and development stages.  Nurses have expertise and skill sets that are unique and can influence the development and adoption of these technologies.

As leaders, nurses should also be added to the governing and advisory boards developing and producing such devices.  One way that nurses can become more active on boards is to locate a board opportunity through the Nurses on Boards Coalition.  The American Nurses Foundation is a founding member of Nurses on Boards, a national partnership of organizations committed to the goal of enabling the appointments of 10,000 nurses to boards of directors of corporate and non-profit health related organizations by 2020 ANF Nurses on Boards.  Nursing input into the development, testing and planning of robots will be essential to their success as care team members and to improving patient care outcomes and the patient care experience.

Service robots are increasing their capabilities and are being tested in more care settings to ensure benefits across the care continuum.  Nurses can remain important influencers by actively seeking information and remaining up to date on the progress that service robots are making in the care environment through regular online scans of current information.