Healthcare Technology Featured Article

October 19, 2016

Will Robots Solve the Nursing Shortage?

As the Baby Boomer generation settles into old age, the U.S. faces a potential healthcare crisis. There are currently more U.S. citizens over the age of 65 than ever before, with the number of the elderly projected to increase 75 percent by 2030.

The massive increase in senior citizens will create an unprecedented demand for healthcare services, as 80 percent of older adults suffer from a chronic condition, according to the National Council on Aging. The increased need for services coincides with a worrying statistic from the American Nursing Association, claiming that a third of registered nurses will be eligible for retirement over the next two decades.

Robots: A Possible Cure for Our Ill Healthcare System

With so many nurses expected to leave the workforce, the U.S. faces a critical shortage of nurses in the future. But advances in medical technology seek to ease the burden on the U.S. healthcare system, which already comprises a quarter of federal spending.

Innovative companies designed robots, such as the Aetheon TUG, to aid nurses in handling automated tasks that don’t require complex decision making. Other robots, such Actroid-F by Japan’s Kokoro, utilize artificial intelligence (AI) to provide companionship for older patients.

Giant Bears and Talking Pill Boxes-Medical Tech That Will Change Nursing

While we haven’t reached the stage of robotic nurses, new medical robots can handle low-level, daily tasks that nurses were once expected to complete. These robots can dispense medications, take vital signs, lift patients, and even draw blood. By utilizing robots, healthcare facilities can lower costs and free nurses up to focus on dealing directly with patients.

Catalia Health offers their Mabu robot through a pilot program with select healthcare providers. Mabu is used for monitoring patients and regulating medication use. It features a robot face that sits atop a tablet screen, where Mabu communicates with patients about how they are feeling and offers medication reminders. Artificial intelligence allows Mabu to individualize conversation, which evolves over time to accommodate the patient. Mabu even blinks in order to simulate a human face.

Robots are also being developed for the physical tasks of nursing. The University of Osaka created the Robot for Interactive Body Assistance (RIBA) to help with patient transfers. RIBA looks like a human-sized teddy bear with outstretched arms, which lifts patients weighing up to 135 pounds.

Jacksonville’s Veebot seeks to provide the first automated machine to accurately draw patient’s blood. Veebot will prevent needle-stick injuries and “inconsistent human operator skills.”

The University of Maryland Medical Center conducted a study using the Aetheon TUG, a robotic, motorized medication cart. The study found that the robot reduced medication cycle times by more than half. Nurses expressed satisfaction with the technology, as they now had more time to spend on other tasks.

Problems with Emerging Medical Technology

Technology will inevitably change what nursing looks like in the future. While the benefits are clear, there are potential drawbacks to over-relying on technology for medical care.

Even with all the advances in AI, people remain uncomfortable communicating with machines. This communication problem can potentially lead to patient discomfort and makes it more likely that patients will be dishonest when discussing their health with a machine.

Overly relying on technology can also reduce some human abilities. Think about our inability to remember phone numbers since the advent of smartphones. In a similar way, over-reliance on technology may diminish some nurses’ ability to adequately track medications after the tasks are outsourced to machines.

No, Robots Are Not Taking Over

Some in the medical field have expressed alarm over the potential for robotics to take over the nursing field.

But experts claim that the surge in medical robotics will help nurses focus on other aspects of their jobs, such as patient care and decision making. The robots will assist nurses rather than take over their jobs, as robots still lack ability in complex decision-making and do not perform well in emergency situations. A study at Oxford University found that nursing was one of least likely careers to be taken over by technology, with only a 0.9 percent chance of being automated.

The emergence of healthcare robots is unlikely to affect nursing jobs overall. But nursing assistants and other healthcare jobs not requiring a bachelor’s degree are at risk, as cost-effective robots will likely take their place.

But those with advanced skills will withstand the emergence of robots in the medical field. Continuing educational opportunities such as PALS recertification enables medical workers to solve the problems that robots cannot. Education is the key to staying relevant in the ever-changing world of healthcare.

Edited by Alicia Young
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By Special Guest
Rick Delgado, Freelance Writer ,


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