Robot Doctors to Provide Health Care Services Soon

Robot Doctors to Provide Health Care Services Soon

MIT along with Brigham and Women's Hospital research says, people are open to interacting with Robots

With the Covid-19 pandemic hitting hard and social distancing becoming a vital norm, this opens the door for using more robots to provide health care services to reduce in-person contact between the health care workers and the patients.

Giovanni Traverso, an MIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering, a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and also the senior author of the study said, that they were actively working on robots that can help provide health care services to maximize the safety, of both the patients and the health care workforce.

Traverso and his colleagues after the Covid-19 began last year, worked towards reducing interaction between the patients and the health care workers. In this process, they collaborated with Boston Dynamics in creating mobile robots that can interact with patients who waited in the emergency department.

But the question here is, how patients are going to respond to the robots? This question was raised by the researchers of MIT along with Brigham and Women's Hospital. The researchers conducted a nationwide large-scale online survey of about 1000 people working with a market research company called YouGov. The questions were about the acceptability of robots in healthcare for performing tasks like nasal swabs, inserting a catheter, and turning a patient over in bed.

Traverso says how different solutions an engineer thinks of, but at times people may not be willing to accept them. So, in this research he and his team wanted to understand if people are receptive to something like mobile robots are not.

The results stated on an average that, the respondents were open to having robots not only to assist them but also to perform minor procedures such as taking a nasal swab. The patients felt that interacting with robots-turned doctors was quite similar to in-person interaction. This is because of the video screen mounted on a robot which gave them the real experience of talking to an in-person.

After getting satisfactory results the researchers tested one of their robots in the emergency department at Brigham and Women's Hospital when Covid-19 cases were increasing in Massachusetts day by day. While 51 patients were approached in the waiting room, 41 agreed to participate in the study. These patients were questioned about their symptoms via video connection, using an iPad handled by a dog-like robot that was developed by Boston Dynamics. The results are quite positive, more than 90% of the respondents were satisfied with the robotic systems in providing health care services.

These robots were furnished with sensors that allowed them to measure vital signs like the temperature, breathing rate, pulse rate, and blood oxygen saturation levels. The robots also had an iPad that permitted video communication with a health care provider. With the help of these robots, the risk of health care workers being exposed to Covis-19 can be reduced to a great extent. It can also reduce the usage of PPE kits that are required for every interaction.

Peter Chai, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital said, "For the purposes of gathering quick triage information, the patients found the experience to be similar to what they would have experienced talking to a person".

The results of the study suggest that, it would be advantageous to develop robots that can help in performing procedures that require a lot of human effort in the present day. Proning is a technique used to boost blood oxygen levels making breathing easier among the Covid patients, this needs many people to turn the patient onto their stomach. This process could be made easier with the help of robots. Administering Covid tests is another task that needs more health care workers, this can also be taken over by robots for making the task easier.

"Surprisingly, people were pretty accepting of the idea of having a robot do a nasal swab, which suggests that potential engineering efforts could go into thinking about building some of these systems," says Chai.

The team of MIT is on the task of developing sensors that can obtain sign data from patients remotely, and working on integrating these systems into smaller robots that could handle varieties of environments such as hospitals or ambulances.

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