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As Hospital Hiring Slips, Robot Workers Lurk

Chelsea Rice, for HealthLeaders Media, June 10, 2013

Staff shortages may return; robots will be ready

Healthcare job creation may be in decline, but there are still jobs to be filled. And human healthcare workers maybeing supplemented by an automated workforce, especially in jobs such as nursing, which provide direct patient care.

healthcare worker

>>>Slideshow: Robots as healthcare workers

As hospitals continue to invest in surgical robotics and telehealth services, basic patient care has also become a place for innovation. Some robot prototypes are entering the market that can examine patients, while others can lift, transport, and assist mobility-challenged patients with daily routine tasks.

Japan and Korea are ahead of the game, already using robots to help care for their quickly aging population. "Nurse droids" like KIRO-M5, developed in 2011 from The Korea Institute of Robot and Convergence, are so sensitive they can detect a soiled diaper.

If and when hospitals begin to adopt these labor-savers, patient assistant robots could provide a solution to the costly nurse staffing problems, and as a result increase patient safety and satisfaction.

USA Today reported this week that hospitals in the Mercy Telehealth Network improved stroke treatment ("door-to-needle") response time using a robot called RP-VITA, which remotely monitors patients. With advanced sensors from its makers iRobot and InTouch Health, RP-VITA can direct itself up and down hospital hallways and remotely check vital signs with a stethoscope and video for the physician. This allows physicians to take calls and visit patients remotely within five minutes. If the robot detects stroke symptoms, it alerts the provider staff wirelessly.

Although far from human themselves (we hope), humanoid robots may increase the quality of patient-provider relationships by increasing the amount of time nurses and physicians can spend with individual patients.

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