Robotic Assistance For Healthcare Workers
April 30, 2013

Healthcare Professionals Are Open To Robotic Assistants For Certain Tasks

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

As technology continues its steady march onward to the future, the question isn´t always “can” it be done, but rather “should” it be done. And this isn´t always asked from the ethical perspective. We humans often have to come to an understanding of just what we will and will not accept as being comfortable.

Nowhere is this truer than in the field of robotics. While the technology exists and is getting better seemingly every day, for roboticists to produce non-sentient beings capable of helping us with a slew of everyday and specialized tasks, the question has to be asked, “Will we accept these mechanical creatures and the help they offer?”

In the medical field, the capability exists for robots to assist with general caregiving tasks, such as housework, feeding and walking. Healthcare workers, however, are going to be the first gauntlet these robots must run before being offered for wider use. A new study out of the Georgia Institute of Technology shows nurses and nurses assistants would be willing to welcome a robot into their workspace depending upon the task at hand.

Of the healthcare professionals interviewed for this study, fully more than 50 percent claimed if they were offered an assistant, they would prefer it to be robotic rather than human. The study claims they would be selective in the help offered by the robots, however. Certain activities, known as ℠instrumental activities of daily living´ (IDALs) would be perfectly acceptable to healthcare workers. IDALs include helping with housework or reminding a patient when and in what dosage to take medications. However, activities daily living (ADL) tasks, such as bathing, getting dressed and feeding are, according to those professionals sampled, better suited for a human assistant.

The team is presenting their findings at the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, France.

“One open question was whether healthcare providers would reject the idea of robotic assistants out of fear that the robots would replace them in the workplace,” stated Tracy Mitzner, study leader and associate director of Georgia Tech´s Human Factors and Aging Laboratory. “This doesn´t appear to be a significant concern,” she continued. “In fact, the professional caregivers we interviewed viewed robots as a way to improve their jobs and the care they´re able to give patients.”

Mitzner went on to say, “Robots aren´t being designed to eliminate people. Instead, they can help reduce physical demands and workloads. Hopefully, our study helps create guidelines for developers and facilitates deployment into the healthcare industry,” she stated. “It doesn´t make sense to build robots that won´t be accepted by the end user.”

The Georgia Tech team has authored previous research that has shown older adults are already presenting a willingness to accept help from robots. The previous research mirrored this current study in that the acceptance was based heavily on the task being performed. Participants in that study claimed they preferred robotic help over human help for chores such as cleaning the kitchen and doing laundry. Getting dressed and suggesting medication were tasks those respondents felt were better performed by a human assistant.