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OP and diagnostic assistants, mobile robotics platforms – New technologies: the solution for the healthcare sector?

A small robot travels independently through hospitals, bringing patients their medicine. We could be encountering such helpers in hospitals more often in the future. The goal: optimal treatment for people.

Ramona Treffler
March 24, 2020
Reading Time: 3 min.

People in industrialized countries are getting older, there is a lack of skilled workers and care personnel are overworked: these are challenges that all areas of the healthcare industry have to face. New concepts are required in order to ensure comprehensive care for the increasingly aging population in the future. This entails more efficient processes since the requirements in terms of quality and documentation are growing. At the same time, personnel must be provided relief so that nurses, care personnel and doctors once again have more time for patients.

Time-consuming, error-prone, monotonous: tasks for robots

“We need holistic automation solutions enabling us to tackle the numerous challenges in the healthcare sector,” says Stephan Sonderegger, CEO of Swisslog Healthcare. “This is why we are helping our customers in the healthcare industry not only to boost their efficiency, but also to free their personnel from administrative tasks.”

One example is individually sorting the correct medication for each patient. What used to be a time-consuming, error-prone task for nursing staff will now be handled by robots in the central pharmacy in a hospital and autonomous service robots (ASRs) or pneumatic tube systems will transport them to the nursing station. According to Ohio State Medical University, this could save 160 work hours each day – time which would remain for personal contact with patients.

“The future of hospitals is in robotics technology”

Stefano Stramigioli, Professor of Advanced Robotics at the University of Twente and ITMO University, sees further fields of application: “Not just in logistics, but also in areas such as diagnostics, the future of hospitals is in robotics.”

The precision of robots brings decisive advantages for the patients – regardless of whether this is in radiology, endoscopy or during what is called keyhole surgery, where operations are carried out more or less within a closed abdominal or chest cavity without large incisions being needed. “Here, the quality is what matters. Surgeons urgently need a system which they can reliably work with. And that is only possible to this extent with robots,” explains Stramigioli. With the KUKA LBR Med, for example.

The lightweight robot is the first robotic component worldwide to be certified for integration into medical products. Capable of human-robot collaboration (HRC), the robot technology is tailored to the specific requirements of the medical sector.

Der KUKA LBR Med als intelligenter Assistent im Medizinbereich

‘Maximizing potential’ thanks to medical robotics

One example illustrating this trend is the EU research project MURAB for, among others, enhanced cancer diagnostics. Thanks to the sensitive KUKA LBR Med lightweight robot, it is possible to improve biopsies by having the robot provide support in the precise control of the biopsy needle.

Robot technology thus minimizes costly magnetic resonance imaging. “This is a really promising project. The precision of the robots allows us to maximize the potential of imaging processes,” says Stramigioli.

Whether for transport tasks, as a surgical assistant or even as an aid for repositioning patients – ultimately, all robotics and automation projects serve a single purpose in the healthcare industry: making treatment as gentle and as effective as possible for the patient.

To achieve this goal, new technologies support doctors and care personnel, ensuring the healthcare sector is fit for the enormous challenges of the future. Sonderegger stresses this as well: “Automation allows more time for care and thus for the patient – the human being is the focus. Patients recover faster and health costs can be reduced.

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