Collaborative robots in healthcare

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The market for collaborative robots is growing rapidly. With increasing availability and increasing opportunity, cobot revenue is anticipated to grow from $600 million to $7.6 billion over the next eight years.

With space for cobots in every industry, the anxiety for many about “robots taking jobs” is rising. However, cobots are very different from traditional robots, and are designed to empower the human workforce rather than replace them. Cobots are made to work alongside their human counterparts, making it possible to build work processes that incorporate the strengths of both humans and robots.

Cobots are also completely safe for humans to work alongside. With constant improvements being made to sensor and vision technology, cobots can stop working instantly if posing a threat to humans close by. Many cobots are also small and lightweight. To top it all off, most cobots are cheaper than robots!

So how can collaborative robots help in existing industries like healthcare? The experts at RNA Automation explain.

Cobots are transforming the Healthcare Industry 

Cobots in healthcare free up the valuable time of healthcare professionals in order to improve patient care. Cobot technology is used to sanitise rooms, to take and analyze samples, to prepare and dispense medications, and more. 

With the clear potential for streamlined processes, repeatable safety measures and a more efficient workplace, many in the healthcare and medical device sectors have also been quick to accept the future of collaborative robotics.

There are many areas of healthcare where progress is particularly encouraging.

Cobots in patient care 

Cobot medical assistants can free up nurses and allow them to help more patients by monitoring vital patient statistics and alerting nurses when a human presence is needed. These robotic assistants also automatically enter information into the patient electronic health record. Robots are also assisting in surgery, allowing doctors to conduct surgery through a tiny incision instead of an inches-long incision.

Cobots are giving critical time back to busy nurses by providing bedside monitoring for patients and automatically updating electronic medical charts. One cobot in Japan is even lifting patients out of beds and wheelchairs, relieving care workers who can often sustain injuries from lifting patients up to 40 times a day.

In some larger facilities, robotic carts carry bed linens and even meals from floor to floor. There are also “gears and wires” robotic assistants that help paraplegics move and can administer physical therapy. There are even cobots who can take blood – which is especially good news for anyone who has been awkwardly jabbed by a needle in search of a vein by an inexperienced med student!

Cobots in surgery 

Cobots have been assisting in surgery for some time now. Whilst it’s not necessarily entirely safe to let robots go solo, cobots can greatly enhance the surgery skills of even the best surgeons and remove room for human error. Cobots in surgery mostly are used to translate surgeon hand movements into smaller, more precise movements, allowing for less invasive procedures.

Surgeons who use cobot systems find precision enhanced, as well as a greater amount of control and flexibility. With cobots, surgeons can better see surgery sites and perform intricate and complicated procedures that may have been otherwise impossible.

Often, robotic surgery makes minimally invasive surgery possible. The benefits of minimally invasive surgery include:

  • Fewer complications, such as surgical site infection
  • Less pain and blood loss
  • Quicker recovery
  • Smaller, less noticeable scars

As an example of cobots in surgery, Accuracy’s Cyberknife System has been successfully delivering radiation therapy to cancerous tumours that utilise a pre-programmed treatment plan and can correct for movement in real time. Studies show a 97-100% success rate for low-risk patients and an 88-97% success rate for intermediate risk patients, both exceeding the success rates of conventional radiation therapy.

Cobots in lab testing

Cobots can handle long monotonous tasks that require care and precision and free up technicians to do more important and engaging things. For example, cobots can take care of picking up, sorting and loading around 3000 blood samples a day for analysis. Cobots utilise vision programming by first picking up the sample, placing it in a bar code scanner and then sorting the sample based on cap colour. Once a tray of the same colour is full, a second cobot places them in a machine for analysis.

Cobots in medical device manufacturing 

India-based Aurolab, which manufactures cataract surgery kits and intraocular lenses use cobots to optimise their manufacturing processes. The cobots perform tasks such as material handling and careful picking and moving of the components – pivotal for the delicate process of manufacturing the lenses. After introducing eight cobots, Aurolab has seen a 15% increase in product output.

The future of cobots in healthcare

With all these developments in mind, the future of cobots within healthcare looks bright. As cobots continue to meet the needs of the medical device and healthcare industries – providing high success rates and positive patient outcomes – we expect to see accelerated adoption rates, and more and more opportunity for cobots within hospitals, doctor’s surgeries and healthcare manufacturing.

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