Hospital Robots Give Personnel More Time to Care for Patients

16 December 2021
Hospital robots in a hallway - low-profile, autonomous mobile robots
Mark Fairchild
Freelance Technical Copywriter
,
Fairchild Copywriting

Discover how hospital robots improve patient care by saving the staff’s time. Learn about their applications, benefits, and where to source them.

Hospitals worldwide face daunting challenges. In many developed countries, the population is aging, thus increasing the demands on the hospital system. A widespread shortage of qualified personnel increases the workload on existing staff. Demands for more documentation are growing, and the number of tests is rising. And the skilled staff are frustrated with the mundane tasks that take time away from patients.

Hospital robots assist medical institutions in a variety of ways. In this article, we explore robots used in hospitals through the following topics.

  • Transportation Robots
  • Lab Robots
  • Drug Dispensing Robots
  • Disinfecting and Cleaning Robots
  • How to Source Hospital Robots

Transportation Robots

Hospitals are a beehive of activity. Fluid samples need to be brought to the lab. Food must be delivered to patients’ rooms and dirty dishes brought back to be washed. Soiled linens have to be transported to the laundry room and back. Large machines are wheeled from place to place.

Wheeling carts and machines from one location to another is a low-value task. Hospital transportation robots are well-suited for these tasks.

By helping to facilitate all this movement, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) are transforming work in hospitals. AMRs are equipped with navigational systems that enable them to know where they are and where they’re going. If they encounter an obstacle, they can stop and wait until the path is clear. If it’s possible to do so, they can simply swerve around the problem. AMRs can even figure out an entirely different route to take because they have the floor plan of the facility memorized.

There are now numerous vendors competing to serve the burgeoning market for hospital transportation robots. The technology is mature.

Case studies of hospitals using transportation robots show they make dozens of trips daily. In large hospitals, each trip might be a half-mile or more. Employing a fleet of robots in a hospital complex saves valuable personnel a considerable amount of traveling. The result is less strain on the staff – they’re not as tired and can concentrate on those tasks for which they were trained.

To be truly useful, AMRs need to communicate with at least some of the elevators and doors. Retrofitting doors and elevators for remote control is a significant investment. Each door must be supplied with electricity to enable the activator that latches or unlatches the door. A remotely controlled door will require network connectivity so the robot can send it a signal to open or close. These considerations require replacing the door latch and installing a motorized opening/closing mechanism. This necessitates installation by expert electricians and technicians.

Having remote control of doors and elevators can be an important sticking point, and some hospitals have overlooked it, thus limiting the usefulness of the robots.

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Lab Robots

Pipetting robot. A blue tray with test tubes. Liquid dispensing robotics.

Testing medical samples requires suctioning a small amount of liquid into a syringe and transferring precise quantities of the liquid into a second receptacle. The process is manual, repetitive, and relatively low value for a human to perform. Laboratory and medical technicians can spend hours daily performing pipetting. Not only is it tedious, but it is also easy to make mistakes.

Pipetting robots free people up to do higher-value tasks, lower error rates, and improve the throughput of the process. Naturally, a robotic solution is not as flexible as a human being. Making changes to operations is not as easy as instructing a person.

Sorting samples is another use case for robotics in hospital laboratories. Large volume laboratories have long had automation systems. Recent advances in robotics technology have lowered the cost and made automation more accessible to smaller and medium-sized labs. Yet the return on investment depends on having a sufficient volume to justify the initial expense.

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Drug Dispensing Robots

Modern pharmacy. A young woman wearing eyeglasses smiles as she holds a box of medicine. She is wearing a white labcoat. Her other hand touches the keyboard of a computer. Shelves of medications in the background.

Dispensing medications is a task that encompasses many manual and repetitive processes suitable for robotics. The robotic system begins with the hospital IT system requesting a prescribed drug. The information is fed to the automated pharmacy system. To facilitate robotic picking, special bins of medications are stored in shelves or carousels. A robot arm selects the correct bin for an order, and places it onto a conveyor. A second robot arm reaches into the bin and picks the correct quantity of boxes or bottles.

Some systems can automatically change their End of Arm Tooling (EoAT). A suction cup may be best for gripping a box of medicine, while a soft, fingered gripper might be used for more fragile bottles. Once placed into a basket, a human pharmacist can carry out a final inspection before sending the prescription out for delivery.

Robotic drug dispensing is faster than manual methods, reduces errors, and can work 24/7. Instead of spending hours fulfilling prescriptions, staff are freed to perform tasks that require higher human judgment.

You will probably need to change your shelving system to accommodate robotic drug dispensing. Your robot vendor can advise on the details.

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Disinfecting and Cleaning Robots

UV disinfecting robot. Vertical, purple, tubular light elements arrayed on top of a mobile base with wheels.  Cleaning and disinfecting robot.

Especially in the era of COVID-19, cleaning and disinfecting hospital rooms has become more critical than ever. Widespread labor shortages make this challenging. Fortunately, there are robotic solutions readily available.

Robots using ultra-violet radiation clean and disinfect a standard hospital room much faster and more thoroughly than a human cleaning team. The UV reaches into every nook and cranny, and the effectiveness is remarkably high. Over 40 peer-reviewed studies show UV kills over 99.99% of pathogens. Robots help reduce the risk of infection by destroying germs that might have been missed with manual cleaning methods.

According to an article published by the Henry Ford hospital system, cleaning times vary according to the size of the room. A standard inpatient room typically requires 15 minutes. That is five minutes for two sides of the room and another cleaning cycle for the bathroom.

Some UV disinfecting robots are advertised as completely autonomous. However, something to consider is the question of opening and closing doors, not to mention elevators. Unless the robot has a way of doing this, you’ll likely need cleaning workers to work alongside the robot.

In some cases, cleaning robots enable patients to have better access to equipment. For example, in radiology, unskilled cleaning people are not allowed to touch the expensive equipment. So, the radiology staff must do the cleaning. The time needed for cleaning has caused significant delays in scheduling appointments for patients to receive tests. The ultra-violet (UV) radiation cleaning robots can disinfect radiology equipment without touching it. And it can be done much faster - from two to four times more quickly than by manual methods, according to a research article published in January 2021

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How to Source the Ideal Hospital Robot for Your Organization

HowToRobot is a global platform connecting end-users with robot and automation suppliers worldwide. We have the world’s largest directory of robotics companies. Using our guide, you can find the type of robot you need, ideally suited for your application.

If you want to automate a hospital task, you can get tailored solution proposals from various suppliers. Simply describe your project and start receiving answers.

You can also get quotes and receive product information for specific hospital robots, parts, components, and consultancy services. You will receive product information and pricing from multiple vendors.

Please note that there are impartial HowToRobot experts who can help you navigate through the process. Click here to set up a consultation with an expert advisor.