Robots--not people--may solve healthcare’s nursing shortage

Developing technologies may offer a possible solution to the nation's shortage of nurses.

Finnish think tank EVA estimates that robots could be employed to do as much as a fifth of nurses’ work. And some hospitals in other countries are already taking advantage of them.

For example, some hospitals in Japan use Terapio, a medical cart that can make rounds, deliver medications to patients and grab medical records, according to The Daily Beast. When it follows a clinician, the robot can also be used to update patient data.

Robots that operate like Terapio are especially useful in nursing facilities, where patients may need reminders to take needed medications or to get out of bed, according to the article. These “nursebots” are designed so they don't nag patients and only provide needed information, according to the article. Other robots may help patients stand and get into wheelchairs or go to the bathroom, another task regularly expected of nurses.

The new technology can help free nurses from these simple, but time-consuming tasks, allowing them to focus more on care tasks that require a more specialized touch. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that as many as a million nursing jobs will be left open by 2020, further underscoring the need to support nurses that are currently employed.

In addition to robots that bring medications and keep track of schedules, some in development may also help with patient loneliness. These robots may keep a patient company or allow family members to video chat or connect with patients in nursing facilities and hospitals, according to The Daily Beast.

But EVA cautions that the use of robotics shouldn’t make it so patients are left on their own too often, according to the study announcement, as there are plenty of situations that still require a human touch.