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Robots Improving Efficiency in Hospitals

The use of technology affects humans in various ways, including their safety and comfort. The medical field is relying more heavily on robots to perform common everyday tasks in hospitals. Since hospitals tend to move many materials around the facilities throughout the day, there is a great need for robots in healthcare to perform delivery and transportation tasks. Having robots take on these kinds of tasks make the hospital staff more efficient, saves money, and allows nurses and doctors to focus on patient care.

One of the materials that robots can deliver safely and quickly is medicine. As pharmacists enter prescriptions into their computers, the delivery robots collect the correct type and dosage by scanning the correct bar-codes. The robot then collects and marks medicines, keeping track to ensure that the correct medicine reaches the patient in need. These delivery robots can take the labeled medications to nursing stations or even individual patients' rooms. This is a more efficient method that can speed up the delivery of critical medications to patients, help fill the gap of staff shortages, and keep prescriptions in a safe secure place while in transit.

Some medical delivery robots will travel over 400 miles in a week completing their rounds as they navigate the corridors, ride elevators, and stop at various stations. In addition to delivering medical supplies, some robots are even visiting to check on patients and take their vital signs for doctors. As robotics continues to develop, patients will continue to benefit from robots being in the hospital environment.

Extend Your Learning icon Extend Your Learning

To expand this activity, explain to students that medical delivery is not the only way that robots are improving hospitals. Have students get into groups of two and write down their ideas about some other robots that could help within a hospital. Have them write descriptions and draw pictures to help explain what the robot would do. When this is done, bring the class back together and have each team present their ideas.

Motivate Discussion icon Motivate Discussion - Trade-offs and Ethics of Using Robots in the Medical Field

Q: Every new technology has costs and benefits. What are the costs of using robots in the medical field?
A: The cost of buying and maintaining the robot (true of all technologies), the risk of cybersecurity breaches and health data leaks (true of every computer within the medical network and security is being developed specifically for physical robots), the loss of jobs that might have went to humans, and the less charismatic dynamic between patients and a robot could all potentially be mentioned.

Q: Besides the benefits and roles listed above, what benefits could medical robots have?
A: They are not vulnerable to persuasion, addiction, or exhaustion. They can keep track of many more patients with ease and remember to check in and medicate each one promptly. They can both administer and track medication supplies. They can collect data and track patterns in patient care that humans might overlook. Of course, there are many others not listed here and others potentially in development.

Q: Ethics are perspectives on what is morally right or wrong, just or unjust, that STEM and other fields use to guide how we conduct ourselves, what new technologies we develop, and how we develop them. They all try to maintain ethical practices - good practices. Do you think it would be ethical to train medical robots by having them treat actual patients?
A: It is unethical to risk the health of patients in order to train a medical robot to improve its algorithms but that is possible. Machine learning is the term for when a robot learns on its own new patterns or skills without needing to be programmed. But, that would be an unnecessary risk - an unethical risk - that medical providers would not allow. Yes, a medical robot might have the potential to learn on its own but it would already be programmed with the necessary algorithms for protecting the health and safety of all patients. We should generally trust that there are protections in place to safeguard against risks when interacting with robots.