by Jason Brandt (@jasondmg3)
Our culture has long been fascinated by robots. From the Jetsons Rosie the Robot to Star Wars C3PO and R2D2 and Disneys Wall-E, its not surprising that the field of medicine has also given rise to the capabilities of robots. Today, some of those sci-fi fantasies of the past are becoming reality.
Many hospitals are expanding the role of robots in the clinical environment, enabling patients to benefit from minimally invasive surgery, a high degree of precision and faster recovery times. In future years, robots may prove beneficial beyond the operating room to meet care giving needs for an aging population.
The technology for future robots to move closer to patient care and helping patients in their home currently exists its just a matter of cost, production, testing and expanding availability. Care-giving robots are capable of doing more than monitoring patients they can do physical work. This will prove to be a real boon to the 52 million Americans currently serving as informal caregivers to a family member or friend, especially as the population ages.
By 2040 the number of people age 65 and older will be 1.3 billion, globally. Younger people, with schedules burdened by work, family and other obligations may not have the time or expertise to help their aging parents or as they get older may face their own health challenges and require additional care themselves. For many elderly patients, living in a nursing home or assisted living facility may not be a desirable option, either because it is cost prohibitive or because they simply want to stay in their own homes. A caregiver robot may provide them with that luxury and the care they need.
Robots many not offer the warm-and-fuzzy caring qualities a human can offer, but they can become the caring professionals many people need. In the future, we may see robots that act more like humans as different etiquette strategies are developed. Some scientists are currently working on humanoid robot prototypes and language strategies so robots can be useful for elements of care such as reminding people to take medicine as prescribed. This can improve prescription compliance, resulting in better health care outcomes.
Robots in the home can also prove useful in lifting or rotating bed-ridden patients. With obesity rates continuing to climb, this can be especially helpful to human caregivers who struggle with lifting family members and can save their backs from physical stress. They can also help patients be more mobile, whether thats helping them out of a chair or reaching for dropped items.
The aging-population trend is just beginning. Robots can ease the effect of the increase in the number of elderly people and can provide meaningful improvements in quality of life. While todays robotic technology and market are not fully mature, the potential usefulness and significance is substantial. Robots are coming closer to commercial availability and are our future. Its just a matter of time until they can handle mechanics with the intellectual capabilities of a human being.