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Global pandemic: how robotics can assist front line health workers

The world’s largest technical professional organization for the advancement of technology, the IEEE, explain why robotics could be the ideal partner for front line workers during the current pandemic:

With the current pandemic sweeping to all corners of the globe, organisations large and small are expanding how they use robots to increase social distancing and reduce the number of staff that have to physically come to work, as well as how they can be used to perform the tasks workers cannot do at home. With health experts warning that some social distancing measures may need to be in place through 2021, robot workers may be in greater demand.

Hospitals are a critical location for robots to take on high-risk jobs and preserve the protection of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers as they tackle the pandemic. While it’s true that healthcare is a sector that is already stretched, the current world situation has placed additional burden on people and resources, which is why the wider introduction of robots is looking likely.

“Worldwide, automation and robotics is already being used in some hospitals for tasks such as medication dispensing,” explained Dr Antonio Espingardeiro, a member of the IEEE and a software and robotics expert. “Using automation for clinical tasks like this reduces the probability of human errors to virtually zero – meaning the process becomes a lot more efficient. In addition to this, mobile robots can be used for transporting medical waste to recycling areas or even perform disinfection tasks in hospitals – a job which is extremely crucial during these trying times.”

To limit exposure to the virus and contain its spread, some healthcare providers are adopting telemedicine. In doing so, healthcare professionals can carry out initial patient evaluations with suspected coronavirus cases, avoiding the need for them to travel to the hospital. Additionally, telepresence robots deployed in hospitals can enable doctors quarantined at home to remain present in emergency rooms, and enable nurses to assess patients without having to worry about their own exposure. These robots lower the risk of infection, while keeping hospital workers productive – even if they themselves are self-isolating.

“Perhaps the most interesting robots in the medical sector are the telepresence robots that allow doctors to still work from home in the case of infections,” continued Espingardeiro. “By controlling robots in hospitals remotely, through embedded cameras and audio, these doctors can still work while they recover from infections. If then needed physically, these doctors can ‘drive in’ to patients’ facilities or consult with nurses at a distance. Going forward, as the world tries to dissect the global situation and learn from it, telerobotics has a potential application for these situations in the future.”