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Can AI-Powered Robots do the Work of a Nurse?

Analysis  |  By Carol Davis  
   August 02, 2023

Researchers examine whether advancements in robotics and AI can replicate nurses' human qualities.

The concept of AI-powered robots in nursing isn’t far-fetched anymore—Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Florida, is using Moxi, a robot, to help with tasks that might otherwise take up time away from patients—but issues remain whether they are capable of providing quality nursing care, a new study says.

Researchers from three Japanese universities examined whether AI and robots have the ability to perform nursing tasks as well as humans.

"This study in applied ethics examines whether robotics, human engineering, and human intelligence technologies can and should replace humans in nursing tasks," says Tomohide Ibuki, an associate professor at Tokyo University of Science.

Nurses’ human touch establishes meaningful connections with their patients. That’s why nurses have ranked first for 21 years as the most-trusted profession in America.

Ibuki and his associates examined whether the current advancements in robotics and AI can implement these human qualities by replicating the ethical concepts attributed to human nurses, including advocacy, accountability, cooperation, and caring.

Advocacy in nursing involves speaking on behalf of patients to ensure that they receive the best possible medical care and are safeguarded from medical errors, providing treatment information, acknowledging the preferences of a patient, and acting as mediators between the hospital and the patient.

While AI can inform patients about medical errors and present treatment options, "the researchers questioned its ability to truly understand and empathize with patients’ values and to effectively navigate human relationships as mediators," according to Tokyo University of Science.

The researchers also questioned holding robots accountable for their actions, though they suggested development of explainable AI, which would provide insights into the decision-making process of AI systems, might improve accountability.

Teamwork is key in modern patient care, and nurses are required to collaborate effectively with their colleagues and other clinicians to ensure the best possible care for patients.

"As humans rely on visual cues to build trust and establish relationships, unfamiliarity with robots might lead to suboptimal interactions," the researchers noted and emphasized the importance of conducting further investigations to determine the appropriate appearance of robots for effective cooperation with human medical staff.

The success of AI-powered nurse robots also relies on patients, who must be willing to accept robots as care providers, the researchers say.

Robots may not fully replace human nurses anytime soon, but it is a possibility, the researchers note. If that time comes, "their deployment requires careful weighing of the ethical implications and impact on nursing practice," the university notes in a press release.

"While the present analysis does not preclude the possibility of implementing the ethical concepts of nursing in robots and AI in the future, it points out that there are several ethical questions," Ibuki says. "Further research could not only help solve them but also lead to new discoveries in ethics."

Carol Davis is the Nursing Editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.


Researchers from Japanese universities examined whether AI and robots can perform nursing tasks as well as humans.

One issue is whether robots can be held accountable for their actions.

Patients must be willing to accept robots as care providers for the success of AI-powered nurse robots.

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