Are robots the answer to the nursing crisis in hospitals?

Moxi has been supporting nurses at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia, since February. It is a human-sized robot that transports medicines, materials, blood samples and personal items through the hospital corridors. Such concepts can provide relief in nursing, which was already extremely stressed before Covid 19 therapy.

High pressure in healthcare

Nursing has no more staff. Not only because the job is no longer attractive enough for young people, but also because the extreme stress during work repeatedly leads to absenteeism due to burnout or even layoffs.

Of course, you cannot replace human care with robots in nursing. But for simple walking tasks, which take up a not inconsiderable part of human capabilities, robotic systems are not only a valid, but also an obvious alternative. Moxi is one of many robots that have been specially developed for use in hospitals in recent years. Nursing was already under a lot of pressure before the pandemic, and with the added burden of Covid-19 cases, this pressure has only increased. Nurses with a burnout experience symptoms such as cognitive impairment, sleep disorders and depression. Due to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is an even greater shortage of staff in the nursing professions than before.

Robots as a relief

In the context of automation, it also makes sense to use robotic systems in hospitals. A product of these considerations is Moxi, a robot developed by Diligent Robotics. The company was founded by Vivian Chu, who previously worked at Google X, and Andrea Thomaz, who developed Moxi while teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. The first practical use of Moxi occurred shortly after the start of the pandemic. A total of 15 Moxis are now on the way in various hospitals in the US, with another 60 to follow this year.

In 2018, every hospital that thought about working with us was a special project for the CFO or an innovation project about the hospital of the future. What we’ve seen in the last two years is that almost every healthcare system thinks about robotics and automation or has robotics and automation on their strategic agenda.says Thomas.

Mixed feedback

In recent years, various robotic systems have been developed that can perform tasks such as disinfection work or assisting physiotherapists in hospitals. There are also systems that work directly with patients, such as Robear, a system that helps transport the elderly in Japan. However, such systems are highly experimental due to the obvious liability risks. Much more widespread are systems that take over the transport of objects.

Using a camera system, Moxi can create a map of the hospital and identify people and objects to avoid along the way. The nursing staff can call the robot from the nursing station or pass on tasks to the robot via an app.

Of course, using robots like Moxi is not without its problems. One of the challenges lies in the field of cybersecurity.

However, a study of 21 nurses who worked with Moxi found that the robot gave them more time with patients and generally eased their workload.

I could do it faster, but it’s better for Moxi to do it so I can do something else useful‘ says one of the interviewed nurses. However, there was also less positive feedback, criticizing Moxi’s navigation skills and disturbed reactions from the patients.

As a society we are not who we were in February 2020. We need to think of other ways to support carers at the bedsideexplains Abigail Hamilton of Mary Washington Hospital.