In a recent report, The International Council of Nurses projects that without sufficient recruitment and retention, the world could face a shortage of up to 13 million nurses by 2030. Many experts are saying this is a lack of new people coming into medicine coupled with severe burnout caused by the pandemic.

In her article, “Can Robot Nurses Replace Real Nurses?”, Julie Kliger addresses the idea of robots replacing nurses. From her conclusion, it seems she agrees with the concept, but has concerns. Kliger focuses on a nursebot named “Pearl” and how it handles Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) in a home setting. Pearl delivers medication, takes vital signs, and serves as a communication interface. She pushes back on Pearl taking patients’ vital signs, saying these are VITAL and should still be handled by a human.

Healthcare workers are trained to look and assess the sum of the patient. In healthcare we don’t treat machines, we treat people. People are more complex than the sum of data and a big piece of that complexity is the human interaction. Perhaps, AI will be able to address this concern in time, but it isn’t there yet. Having a robot take patient vitals can have serious repercussions on that patient’s outcome, especially while the AI hasn’t been fully developed. Having a dispassionate machine replace crucial human interaction can remove the compassion necessary to help the healing process.

In another article titled, “How Can Robotic Nursing Improve Healthcare?”, Terrence Shenfield focuses on a robot called Moxi. Moxi handles tasks such as delivering lab samples, distributing PPE, fetching items from central supply, and delivering meds. Shenfield elaborates on how humanoid the robot looks and functions to lessen the intimidation factor a patient may feel while interacting with a “trash can robot.” Conceptually, Moxi’s look is supposed to retain the compassionate aspect of the patient interaction while freeing up the human nurse for nursing.

Most tasks Moxi performs are no longer being carried out by nurses in the hospital setting. These tasks are performed by CNAs or the Environmental Team. A humanoid expression is not enough to replace a nurse’s care and counterproductive for what healthcare leaders should be focusing on. Robots may offer the false impression of addressing the nursing shortage while allowing the problem to fester because we are no longer focusing on it — the actual problem of a nursing shortage will still exist.

Healthcare administrators are focused on delivering healthcare at an affordable price and keeping our businesses open so we can continue doing good with ever-dwindling resources. The
question is: how can robotics help us deliver the service we are charged with while still maintaining the quality of care our patients deserve? How do we address the underlying conditions of burnout and lack of fresh caregivers?

Robots should be used for supporting ADLs, for picking up cleaning supplies, delivering PPE and lab samples. To address the shortage, we need to train CNAs to become LPNs and LPNs to become RNs. This takes the people who are already in our field and gives them growth opportunities. It also curtails some of the burnout by tasking non-humans with the work that is less rewarding than assessing and interacting with a patient.

Our job is to create better profit margins while safeguarding the future of the industry. We can do this by showing our current teams their value and giving them the tools to build on it and make a larger impact. Perhaps the most important thing we can do is to ensure the human touch and that the passion of someone dedicated to healing remains a crucial part of the experience. Robots have their place in healthcare, but it isn’t in direct patient care.