Alarmists have predicted that nearly 50% of all jobs will be lost to automation and robotics in the coming decades. While it is true that robotics will have some measure of impact on jobs across all sectors, including healthcare, analysts are publishing reports now that are more balanced regarding jobs lost versus jobs created. For example, Forrester Research published a report in August of 2015, titled “Robots Will Not Steal All Our Jobs”. The study looked at the numbers of jobs created, lost, and transformed over the next decade with the results indicating a 16% reduction in jobs in the U.S., with another 13.6 million or 9% of jobs created, yielding a net job loss of only 7% by the year 2025. The largest number cited will be in the numbers of jobs transformed, estimated to be in the area of 25% or more across all industries.
Robotics and automation will be impacting healthcare workers in the job transformation category. In fact, all studies show that demand for healthcare workers will continue to grow, but advancements in technology will transform these jobs as we know them today. Let’s examine ways that robotics and automation will be affecting tomorrow’s healthcare professional.
Transport and Distribution. Many facilities are studying the use of transport robots to deliver supplies, medications, meals, and linens throughout the building. Some navigate via floor sensors, while others are fully automated utilizing GPS technology and the pre-programmed map of the facility. These vehicles are designed to reduce time nurses and others spend shuffling to and fro collecting and distributing needed supplies and items.
Robotic Surgical Platforms. Arguably, the most well-known aspect of automation in healthcare, robot-assisted surgery is becoming a major investment for healthcare systems throughout the United States. These computer-integrated systems are not replacing surgeons, but instead, are aiding them in carrying out surgical procedures in a more precise ways. From image-guided laparoscope controls to single-incision gallbladder surgeries, the surgical robotics market is poised to play a major role in Operating Rooms throughout the world for years to come.
Rehabilitation Support. Today, functional rehabilitation robots are being developed to help patients with diminished physical capacity due to injury, disease, or disability. These machines guide limb movements during physical rehabilitation exercises.
Diagnostic robotics. Without question, technology, and robotics excel in the capacity to collect, infer and disseminate large amounts of data. Now, robots are being used for diagnostic assistance in analyzing data obtained via medical imaging, including MRIs, 3-D Ultrasound, Endoscopy Scans, etc. This technology lends a powerful assist in providing timely, accurate information about the appearance or status of disease and providing critical data to providers.
Sterile Processing. Robotic devices are being developed to protect healthcare staffers from the dangers of splashing or exposure to blood-borne pathogens. Still in its infancy, sterile processing robotic devices can clean, sort, inspect, count, and repack surgical instruments.
Other robotic technologies to consider. The following emerging technologies are also in wide development:
- Exoskeleton-powered robotics will augment physical therapists treating patients with impaired limbs.
- Radio-surgical robotics using image-guided beams of high energy radiation will deliver precise treatment on tumors without surgery.
- Telepresence robots will provide virtual medical consultations in areas where there are great distances between provider and patient.
Investments in robotics are extremely costly for healthcare facilities. Great consideration is being placed on the safety benefits, efficiencies gained, infrastructure impacts and IT implications to counter-balance the financials. For the immediate future, the impacts of robotics on healthcare workers will be in an assistive capacity. Allowing them to perform their job more efficiently, with greater precision and accuracy, and resulting in higher levels of quality care for their patients.
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