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Creating HIT Infrastructure to Support Healthcare Robotics

Healthcare robotics is emerging and organizations need to prepare their HIT infrastructure to accommodate them.

healthcare robotics

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Organizations are introducing robots into their HIT infrastructure to support clinicians, help treat patients, and assist during surgery. However, there is more to healthcare robotics than simply purchasing the machine and letting it do its job.

A certain amount of engineering and development is needed to ensure robots are doing exactly what is needed, which is why understanding robot operating systems is critical to successful implementation and use.

Robots are capable of taking certain tasks away from clinicians, so clinicians can focus on more pressing matters. These machines won’t replace clinicians, but they will work alongside them and offer support. For example, robotics could help a surgeon have a steadier hand during delicate and high-risk procedures.

Robots can also be used for telemedicine programs, and aid patients by delivering needed items, keep watch over a patient in recovery, or help physically impaired patients out of bed and help them move around.

Robots are “physically embodied systems capable of enacting physical change in the world,” explained Dr. Laural D. Riek.

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“They enact this change with effectors, which can move the robot (locomotion), or objects in the environment (manipulation),” she explained. “Robots typically use sensor data to make decisions. They can vary in their degree of autonomy, from fully autonomous to fully teleoperated, though most modern systems have mixed initiative, or shared autonomy.”

“More broadly, robotics technology includes affiliated systems, such as related sensors, algorithms for processing data, and so on.”

Many patients experience difficulty with sensory, physical or cognitive function. These robots can work alongside clinicians to assist people with daily living tasks.

Robots would allow aging patients to live independently for longer in their own homes without having to depend on an actual person to assist them.

Robots can also address the healthcare labor shortage and take over some of the more mundane tasks that don’t require a skilled clinician. This way clinicians can focus on more complex tasks and don’t have to worry about offering assistance to patients for daily tasks.

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The need for robots in a care setting has caused the robot operating system market to grow. The robot operating system market is expected to grow at an 8 percent CAGR through 2025, according to Transparency Market Research. Robot operating systems is the robotics middleware that controls what the robot does.

While there are many benefits to introducing robots into a health IT ecosystem, organizations need to understand some of the challenges related to taking on the technology.

“Robots have the ability to enact physical change in the world, but in healthcare that world is inherently safety critical, populated by people who may be particularly vulnerable to harm due to their disability, disorder, injury, or illness,” said Riek.

Robots need to be safe and reliable, capable of performing tasks, usable, and cost effective. When these needs are not met, the machine will be abandoned, which is a waste of valuable resources.

The robots need to be usable for clinicians with low technology literacy levels. If a clinician finds that the robot is unusable, she will not utilize the machine to help treat patients.

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Clinicians don’t have time to figure out a machine that’s meant to cut back on wasted time. Making sure the robot is user friendly is critical to its success and needs to be figured out in the design phase.

Safety is also a large concern for healthcare robotics. Organizations need to make sure the robots that patients and clinicians rely on are going to be there to support them when needed.

“There has been a fair bit of work on safe physical human-robot interaction, particularly with regard to improving collision avoidance, passive compliance control methods, and new advances in soft robotics to facilitate gentle interaction,” Riek explained. “There also have been recent advances on algorithmic verifiability for robots operating in partially unknown workspaces, which may prove fruitful in the future.”

Organizations also need to consider robotics ROI before making plans to purchase and adopt them. The cost of robots often goes beyond the initial purchase, training costs, and maintenance.

To be sure an organization is ready for a robot, it needs a thorough plan that includes exactly why the robot is needed, how to select a robot, and really consider if the organization’s infrastructure is ready for robots.

Healthcare is ready for robots, but organizations need to work robotics into their IT infrastructure plans to see how they will realistically fit into a digital strategy. Robots will be a significant enabler to patients and clinicians in the near future so planning for them now will make adopting them easier.

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