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Industry Insights

Robots in Healthcare: Current and Future State of Robotic Health Technology

By Akhila Sriram on December 8, 2021

As the applications of technology in all industries, but especially healthcare, grow, we’re seeing an increase in automation and robotics across the board. By reducing the amount of work humans have to do by substituting programs and robots for taking some tasks, human professionals and experts can focus their time and energy on other tasks. In healthcare, this looks like robots supplementing the work that human physicians do, either by taking on tasks completely or supplementing a human’s abilities with technology. In the history of robotics in healthcare, the first robots were designed to help in the surgical realm via robotic arm technologies. As technology has grown and evolved, the robots have become smarter and the tasks they help with have become more complex. Here’s a short summary of how healthcare and technology have worked together to improve health outcomes and the patient and health worker experience.

Applications of Technology in Healthcare

Technology in healthcare has been integrated through hardware and software, where robotic arms, medical devices and surgical apparatuses serve as the hardware and programs like electronic health records and cloud-based storage and sharing systems for medical data serve as the software. Both hardware and software come together to bring healthcare into the digital age. This way, medical technicians, physicians, and care team members can collaborate on patient care digitally and can improve health outcomes using efficient and accurate technology.

Why Use Robots in Healthcare?

As intelligent and trained as our healthcare professionals are, it’s impossible for them to know, understand, and catch every piece of data in any healthcare setting. Technology, and robots specifically, come in handy for assisting healthcare professionals do their work effectively. These tasks have been previously done by humans, either various healthcare staff roles or by physicians and trained professionals themselves, but with technology integrated, the same tasks can be handled without the human touch. This brings up the long-contested argument that robots are taking over jobs from humans, but in healthcare, having that precise robotic algorithm and programming behind those actions increases safety, efficiency, and peace of mind for professionals and patients alike.

Spectrum of Robots in Healthcare

To put this in the context of a pop culture reference, robots in healthcare started as Tony Stark’s work in adding to human strength through his tinkering with a robotic glove apparatus. This looked like robotic arms and implements to help surgeons during specific surgeries, to make more precise and controlled actions. Then the robotics leveled up into the automation stage, where Tony’s robotic arms were doing tasks autonomously by themselves, from extinguishing fires to testing other technology he was developing. In healthcare, this was robots being programmed to do specific tasks on their own and taking those actions by themselves when needed. Robots have been used for handling tasks that are repetitive or would be safer without humans involved, such as dispensing pharmaceuticals, transporting supplies such as linens or medical equipment along preprogrammed routes in hospitals, or cleaning operating rooms, laboratories, and infectious disease wards.

Current and Future Evolution of Healthcare Robots

Now, we’re in the AI phase, where Tony designs his virtual assistants JARVIS, FRIDAY, and Edith, who can help with tasks but also understand his needs and take care of them for him. Robots in healthcare now and in the future can be programmed to take specific actions but can also learn to do their work better or do new tasks through artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms. These can be social robots who serve as digital assistants to health professionals or companions to patients in certain long-term care settings. This can also look like digital assistants, like Siri, Alexa, and Google, who can be called upon to digest spoken or written information and act for the healthcare professional.

Looking to the future, technology and robots are slowly getting more and more precise and sensitive, able to mimic nerves, skin, and brain functions to help patients using robotics within and without. As our robotics get better and stronger, researchers are able to imagine new opportunities for applying the technology to the real world. In the time of simple robotic arms helping with surgery, healthcare professionals could only dream of telehealth robots who could help patients in their daily lives and enhance the communication between patients and their physicians. And that exists today, thanks to the continuous innovation of robotics in healthcare.

Digitally Transforming Healthcare Through Technology

In our work with MedTech, pharma, and healthcare companies, we’ve seen technology and digital solutions bring improved outcomes at all levels, from patient health need and goals to health cost reduction to improved care team-patient relationships. By involving patients in their healthcare and centering around patient needs when it comes to product and service developments, all healthcare-related businesses can see an improvement in their bottom-line. Our mission is customer centricity, and in the world of health, that means patients’ needs undercut all practices of the industry. OSG is here to help you digitally transform your business with our technology solutions for understanding your healthcare stakeholder needs, behaviors, and data, to better understand opportunities for business growth and improved health outcomes.