Technical Article

Are Robots Becoming More Essential in Medical Automation?

August 12, 2020 by Jeff Kerns

What are some of the key advancements in medical automation in the last several years and how have robots become more widespread in this industry?

Automation is increasing. Some people are concerned with where the line should be drawn between humans and technology. AI and IoT are expanding into more sectors. This expansion is often due to pain points and production issues associated with the skills gap, labor costs, and the current speed of industry.

Due to a highly regulated and human-centered industry, where do we let computers take control? The following will briefly look at what technology is out there, and how medical automation is advancing overall. 


The Human Touch

In a report from the International Journal of Nursing Sciences (IJNS), it mentions the nursing shortage throughout the world. “Research has also shown that an elevated patient-to-nurse ratio would result to an escalation in patient mortality and an escalation in burnout experienced by nurses. Reduction of the patient-to-nurse ratio would conclude in lower cases of missed patient care.” Nurses using robots to complete their daily tasks is likely to escalate in the coming years. 

The paper claims that assisting robots might even overtake human nurses and replace human nurses altogether far down the road.

However, other sources say with the current issues associated with the skills gap and the projected market growth, technology will not be designed to replace but rather amplify the potential of medical professionals. 


Can Robots Adapt Soft Skills?

Additionally, soft skills and bedside manner may slow the adoption of robot nurses, or at least ensure technology will work with not replace humans. Some early technology has shown promise, but the exchange of machines for people is a heavy debate in medicine.

Johnson and Johnson learned this the hard way. published, “In 2015, Johnson & Johnson released a machine called Sedasys that was approved by the FDA to administer the sedative propofol. 

After years of aggressive pushback from The American Society of Anesthesiologists, the machine’s uses were limited to colonoscopies and endoscopies. Even still, the benefits of Sedasys were immense: anesthesia administered by an anesthesiologist for a colonoscopy can cost between $1,000-$2,000; by contrast, Sedasys cost only $150-$200 per use.”

The product was eventually pulled from the market. Some say the system was great, and that it was simply human distrust and push back from anesthesiologists that prevented the product from gaining traction. However, an article in the International Anesthesia Research Society claimed there were design flaws and other concerns with the system. Whether design or distrust, companies in this space have a difficult task.

The paper from IJNS provides a table of robotic technologies that are helping to automate the medical industry. The following is taken from Can nurses remain relevant in a technologically advanced future?


Name of Robot and Robotic Technology Capabilities
Da Vinci Surgical Robot Improves precision and accuracy of surgeons Decreases the responsibilities of nurses in the operating room
Companion Robots such as Jibo, Pepper, Paro, and Buddy

Helps people with special needs such as the elderly, autistic children, or the disabled. Provides comfort and emotional support.

“Robear” and “RIBA” Lifts and transports patients as well as those who need assistance in standing up
Georgia Tech's “Cody” Gives bed baths to patients

Has an 83% accuracy in selecting the best vein

Robotic Prescription Dispensing Systems Made the dispensing of pharmaceuticals more accurate and safer decreases the responsibilities of nurses in medication administration.
TUG robots Perform transportation and delivery tasks in the hospital
Lynx Autonomous Intelligent Vehicles Capable of moving goods in a large facility and can self-navigate in dynamic environments
Swisslog RoboCourier Used for transport of specimens, medications, and supplies in hospitals, clinical laboratories, and pharmacies



Da Vinci Surgical Robot system. Image courtesy of Intuitive Surgical.


There are other robotics arms and systems available not mentioned above who are making strides in medical automation as well. Denso has used its VS-050S2 in the industry for years. Their robot is rated for ISO Class 5 protection level and the wrist has an IP67 rating while the overall unit is IP65. 


VS-050S2: The VS-050S2 is for use in sterile environments and clean environments that employ H2O2 gas 35% density (dry/wet) and UV exposure. Its smooth surface prevents the adherence of dust and dirt. The robot arm is constructed without external screws to maintain high sanitation levels. Image courtesy of Denso.


Another solution helping industry robots move the medical industry is as simple as what the professionals do every day. Personal protective equipment can be expanded to robots.

Disposable robot covers help meet cleanroom standards. One example is the silicone-free, clean room-rated disposable covers offered by RoboWorld. Disposable covers offer an economical solution to maintenance and protection needs.  


Will AI Replace Doctors?

Robots and devices are not the only things changing and automating medicine today. Software and AI are working to automate paperwork, medical decisions, and best care practices; just like we’ve seen in manufacturing, AI and data can help predict and suggest maintenance. 

DeepMind uses AI software and mobile apps to improve health teams and patient care. Teaming with Google Health in 2019, the system helps track patients and create easy records and tasks of what has and has not been performed. 

IBM’s Watson Health, Careskore, CloudMedx, and more are trying to improve healthcare. AI software solutions have the ability to not only access tons of medical information, procedures, drugs, etc. but are able to incorporate the patient’s data and history to suggest best care instructions. 

Additionally, these systems are able to provide new angles or possibilities to caring for patients. AI solutions are even able to use data such as socio-economics, behavior, and other demographics to help healthcare providers.    

AI products say they are to assist healthcare providers, not replace them. Perhaps a comparison would be what generative design is doing for engineers. A designer might have an idea about geometry, materials, and design.

However, with a computer calculating and simulating all possible outcomes, the engineers may find a solution they might not have initially thought. 

As medical automation technology continues to spread through the medical industry it will become increasingly important that educators work with technology providers.

Combining education with technology will show where humans and machines can work together for the greatest care.