More than two years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic, bringing economies across the globe to a standstill and chaos in the healthcare industry. In a short span of time the industry was forced to up the ante, resulting in the adoption of modern solutions like virtual care, collaborative robots, artificial intelligence, machine learning and service outside the hospitals. These initiatives and adoptions aimed to improve the work efficiency of the limited number of healthcare professionals and equipment at a highly crucial time.
Last year, a report submitted by the Finance Commission underlined the pressure Indian doctors are working under. For instance, every allopathic doctor in India currently caters to at least 1,511 people, higher than the numbers suggested by the WHO, i.e., 1,000 people per doctor. The availability of trained nurses is even worse, with a nurse and patient/people ratio of 1:670 against the WHO norm of 1:300.
This lack of medical assistance has posed an urgency for the industry to pivot towards streamlined, automated processes. Though technology adoption has always been prevalent in the industry with automation solutions, such as e-prescriptions, mobile consultancy, and electronic medical records, the global health crisis accelerated this trend multi-folds.
One of these trends is the adoption of collaborative robots or cobots. Technology is increasingly foraying into the healthcare industry. From lab testing to cleaning hospitals, cobots can efficiently perform routine monotonous tasks. This helps the medical staff to focus on highly skilled and productive tasks, ensuring the majority of people receive medical attention in a short time, even during a health crisis.
In a short span of time, the acceptance and inclusion of these robots has multiplied to assisting doctors, nurses, caregivers and patients in hospitals and care facilities. During the pandemic, cobots also helped perform disinfect large areas, and make precision medical components. Additionally, robotic medical assistants are being used to monitor patient’s vital statistics and alert doctors and nurses in case of an emergency, allowing the nurses to attend/monitor multiple patients simultaneously.
Today, coronavirus cases have fallen sharply, and medical experts, researchers, and even governments suggest that people return to living their everyday lives. Now is the time to evaluate and revisit how cobots have altered the healthcare system and to what extent it will continue to assist healthcare professionals. Some of the ways in which cobots are used today in the healthcare industry are mentioned below.
- Sanitisation and cleaning
Continuous deep cleaning and effective sanitisation is the first and foremost rule in all hospitals, clinics and other healthcare centres. During the last two pandemic years, these cobots helped medical professionals spray disinfectants on a wide area without contact with human beings. These robots can be operated remotely through laptop, tablets, and even mobile phones in the future. The inclusion of these robots allows the human workforce to perform varied and satisfying work.
- Lab automation/testing
Initially designed to conduct tests remotely, cobots continue to play an essential role even in the post-pandemic times. These machines expedited the time taken for the test, from scanning the patient’s identity to collecting their samples via swab from the throat. So far, these machines have been a great help to the industry.
- Patient care
Patient care is the most crucial part of the healthcare process. Cobots are designed to assist nurses who monitor patients’ stats and generate medical reports automatically. Additionally, they help in making administrative tasks easier for nurses.
- Medical Equipment manufacturing
In the past two years, the escalated demand for medical equipment resulted in a severe shortage of items such as masks, gloves, and ventilators in the industry. Companies producing these items adopted cobots on a larger scale and improved their products with limited human interaction.
In recent years, cobots have emerged as a way of conducting business and producing goods on a larger scale. It’s not just the healthcare industry that has helped the organisations provide essential items in the market, but it has also helped other sectors. In the coming times, the industry will continue to meet the demands of the healthcare industry by providing resilience and precision with a subsequent increase in demand the coming years.
To utilise the benefits of this technological revolution, the industry needs to continue to innovate so that the sector collectively adapts to the near future, where robots play a crucial role and work closely.
(The author Mr.James McKew, Regional President Asia-Pacific, Universal Robots and the views expressed in this article are his own)