Robotics in Healthcare no Anachronism

Posted on December 19, 2012


The end of the year always seems like a good time to address the future; people seem to be attuned to change and ideas about a better tomorrow.

Robots have held a fascination factor with techies and futurists for some time.  Jetsons and Roomba jokes aside, robotics has been a relevant topic in business and healthcare quite a bit recently.

Nearly one year ago, in fact, I addressed the usefulness of robotics in hospitals and by now the da Vinci is old news. In the past several weeks, consider Inc. magazine’s recent report on Baxter, a workforce-designed robot (read:  mass-produced and affordable), adaptable to several manual dexterity tasks.

And last week, the Advisory Board reported on a MRSA-killing robot, which several hospitals have raved about—at least from the risk management side. Two years ago I heard a presentation from Steris about the future of sterilization and they mentioned sterilization on the scale of entire rooms, not simply surface or object treatment.  I always envisioned a hermetically sealed ammonia or steam bath for an OR, but infrared makes much more sense.

The main takeaway from current robotics design development and real-world task implementation are today’s robots are far more affordable, intuitive to operate, and relatively safe to work around for humans—all hurdles to robot adoption in the past.  

However, robots create more questions than answers for healthcare professionals, and for architects. How will this affect healthcare design? What kind of spaces would robots working in sterilization need? Power requirements…sizes…maintenance…the questions are numerous. Robots are more likely, than less likely to be part of future healthcare workplaces, so let’s start the discussion now.