Exploring health care robots: Are they ready for clinical use today?

December 6, 2023
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How robots are changing healthcare

Would you feel comfortable getting a diagnosis from a robot? Or having a robot draw your blood, stitch up a wound, or perform surgery? It might sound futuristic, but it's becoming more and more common.

Robotic medical assistants are already making a difference. They monitor patient vitals and notify nurses when human intervention is needed. This technology enables nurses to efficiently care for multiple patients at once. Plus, these assistants automatically update patient records, streamlining administrative tasks.

In hospital corridors, you might see robotic carts carrying supplies, or even bed linens and meals from one floor to another. In theater, robots assist doctors in performing minimally invasive surgeries.

Robots also manage medication in pharmacies, ensuring patients receive the correct drugs quickly and safely. And in research labs, robots are taking over repetitive tasks, freeing up scientists to focus on breakthrough work.

They're changing how patient care is delivered. Robots disinfect rooms, reducing infection risks. There is also good news for anyone who's had a tough time with blood draws – robotic lab assistants can find veins more easily, reducing discomfort.

The uses and applications of Healthcare robots

The world of healthcare is rapidly embracing robotics, with these high-tech helpers stepping in to assist in various aspects of patient care. But what exactly are the best uses for medical robots, and where do they face challenges?

Best uses

  • Surgical assistance: Robots like the Da Vinci Surgical System are transforming surgery, making it possible to perform minimally invasive procedures. They're not replacing surgeons but enhancing their capabilities, leading to better outcomes and quicker recoveries. Plus, with advancements in telemedicine, surgeons can operate on patients from remote locations.
  • Rehabilitation and physical therapy: Robots are proving invaluable in helping patients recover from strokes, brain injuries, or paralysis. They can tailor therapy programs to individual patient needs and adapt exercises in real-time based on patient performance and progress.
  • Remote monitoring: Telemedicine robots allow doctors and healthcare professionals to check in on patients without being physically present. These robots can continuously monitor vital signs, alerting healthcare staff to any concerning changes in a patient’s condition.
  • Medication and records management: Medical robotics are streamlining the dispensing of medication and managing patient records. Not only does this help minimize human error, but it also frees up healthcare professionals for more critical tasks.
  • Sanitization and infection control: Medical robots equipped with UV light or electrostatic sprayers can efficiently disinfect hospital rooms and operating suites, reducing the risk of hospital-acquired infections.
  • Logistical support: Robots can transport and automate the sorting of medical supply cabinets to improve efficiency in both hospitals and pharmacological labs.

Limitations and challenges

While robotics certainly has great value in healthcare, there are still limitations and a long path ahead for full integration.

  • Human touch: In some scenarios, the empathy and understanding of a human healthcare provider are irreplaceable. Patients often seek a human connection, especially in sensitive medical situations.
  • Complex healthcare scenarios: Certain medical conditions and procedures are too complex for current robotic systems. This may require the judgment and adaptability of human healthcare professionals.
  • Patient trust: Building trust is a big hurdle in the healthcare industry. Many patients are still skeptical about receiving care from a robot, especially for more intricate procedures like dental work or surgery.
  • Patient safety and data security: With robots collecting and analyzing vast amounts of patient data, patient privacy becomes a significant concern. Without strong cybersecurity measures, robots may not be ideal for data and record management.
  • Liability issues: When robots are involved in patient care, determining the liability in case of malfunctions or accidents can become complicated. It raises ethical questions about control, responsibility, and accountability for all people involved, from robot manufacturers to the medical staff.

Benefits of robotics in healthcare

There's much to be excited about with medical robotics. They bring a host of benefits to healthcare organizations and facilities, particularly in long-term settings.

Enhanced health and patient care

Robots can help enhance patient care by supporting minimally invasive surgical procedures, personalized monitoring for chronic conditions, and intelligent therapy options. They can even provide cognitive engagement for elderly patients.

These robots are also great at repetitive tasks like administering medicines, which allows nurses to focus on the personal side of patient care.

Safer work environment

Healthcare robots can also address safety concerns in healthcare settings. By taking over heavy lifting tasks like moving beds or patients, they reduce workplace hazards for staff.

For example, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) can safely transport supplies and linens in high-risk areas, reducing the risk of spreading germs. Plus, robots that clean and disinfect are cutting down on hospital-related infections.

Streamlined clinical workflows

Robots are streamlining clinical workflows by taking on physically demanding tasks and ensuring consistent processes. They're a solution to staffing shortages, efficiently managing inventory, and ensuring that supplies and medications are always at hand.

Their ability to quickly sanitize hospital rooms means that healthcare workers can dedicate more time to patient-centered activities.

Improved surgery outcomes

Surgical robots have taken a front seat in the operating room, aiding surgeons in both the preparation and execution of surgeries. A surgical robot can make it possible for surgeons to operate with incredibly fine precision. This means smaller cuts, less risk of infection, and faster patient recovery times.

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The future of robotic assistance in the healthcare industry

So, what's next for robots in healthcare? It's not slowing down any time soon. The field is rapidly growing, branching out into areas like nanotechnology, brain-computer interfaces, and robotic prosthetics

As this technology gets better, we'll see it do more amazing things in healthcare, each with its own set of advantages and challenges.

Medical robots are getting smarter thanks to advancements in machine learning, data analytics, and computer vision. They're gearing up to do jobs on their own more efficiently and with top-notch accuracy.

One of the most intriguing future trends is tele-nursing. This idea blends robotics with telemedicine, creating a system where nurses remotely control robots to take care of patients.

But can healthcare robots go from doing specific tasks to handling patient care on their own? The goal isn't to replace the human touch in healthcare. Instead, tele-nursing aims to merge the best of telemedicine – the expertise and personal contact of healthcare workers – with the strengths of robotics.

The cost of Healthcare robots

When discussing the cost of healthcare robots, it's important to understand that they represent a significant investment. Here's an approximate breakdown of the costs of a healthcare robot:

  1. Initial cost: For example, AMRs in healthcare cost around $100,000 each, while an advanced surgical robot like the Da Vinci Surgical System is reported to be around $1.5 million.
  2. Maintenance: Annual maintenance will depend on how well the robot is looked after and how often it's used. Typically, a healthcare facility could expect to pay around $100,000 annually for maintenance.
  3. Return on investment: The return on investment (ROI) for AMRs, for example, is around two years.
  4. Labor savings: Robots can offer significant savings, reducing the need for more labor and freeing up workers for more complex tasks.
  5. Long-term ROI: A $250,000 robotic investment could yield $1.5 million in savings over 7-8 years.
  6. Funding: Research projects, like those under the National Robotics Initiative (NRI), receive funding that can help in development.

Leading manufacturers in Healthcare robotics

1. Intuitive Surgical - California, US

When it comes to robotic-assisted surgery, Intuitive Surgical is a global leader. It's renowned for the Da Vinci Surgical System, which uses advanced 3D HD vision for precise operations.

2. Stryker - Michigan, US

A big name in hip and knee replacements, Stryker is growing fast, especially with its expansion in places like China, India, and African countries.

In 2018, it boosted its capabilities by acquiring K2M for $1.4 billion, enhancing its presence in spine and neurotechnology. One of Stryker's key innovations is Mako, a robotic arm assisting surgeons in operations.

3. Hansen Medical - California, US

Operating from Silicon Valley, Hansen Medical specializes in medical robots, notably the Magellan and Sensei X robotics systems for cardiac and vascular surgeries.

4. Ekso Bionics - California, US

Ekso Bionics creates wearable robotics, aiding those with mobility issues. Their exoskeletons have helped users take over 200 million steps, revolutionizing rehabilitation. Used in 130+ centers worldwide, they enable individuals with various paralysis levels to walk.

5. Diligent Robotic Company - Texas, US

Diligent is known for its AI-powered healthcare robots like Moxi. They handle routine logistical tasks and run errands in healthcare facilities, showcasing how robots can effectively work alongside human staff.


Will healthcare robots replace human healthcare workers?

No, healthcare robots aren't going to replace human healthcare workers anytime soon. Actually, they're more about helping and improving working conditions. The need for real human connection in healthcare means that AI and robots will be more of a helping hand, not a replacement.

What is the most commonly used medical robot?

The Da Vinci Surgical System is one of the most commonly used medical robots. It's really popular in hospitals and clinics both in the United States and abroad. There are other robots like the TUG, which helps with delivering things around hospitals and cleaning robots like the Xenex.

Can robots perform surgeries in healthcare settings?

Yes. This type of surgery, known as robot-assisted surgery, gives doctors a way to do complex procedures with more precision and control than traditional methods. It's usually associated with minimally invasive surgery, which involves small incisions.


As we wrap up, it's clear that healthcare robots are not just a fleeting trend; they're a vital part of the future of medicine. From the operating rooms to the halls of long-term care facilities, their impact is already transformative.

They're not here to replace the human touch in healthcare but to complement it, taking on tasks that allow medical professionals to focus more on patient interaction and complex care.

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