“Have a great meal, Mrs. Smith.”
“Thank you, Junior. It is nice to have you here. I am always alone. Do you like it here as well?”
Healthcare robots. At first sight, they seem to be ‘nice little robots’. Most of them are not even sixty centimeters tall. They talk, they sing and walk and with a bit of programming they can even perform a dance on Conquest of Paradise. Are they more than just cute machines? Yes. Healthcare robots like ZORA, Paro, Junior and many others are a great addition to our – future – healthcare system and will be a great part of the way we take care of people in the future.
Reaching the unreachables
When we talk about healthcare robots, we do not mean the earth-threatening, human-race-destroying robots we see in movies, but just the little machines that can take on small, time consuming tasks. Some examples of these tasks are doing memory games with elderly people, demonstrating exercise routines or remind patients to take their medicines. By telling stories and asking questions through these robots, people can be reached more easily and be taken out of their isolation. Something human beings are not always capable of doing.
“By telling stories and asking questions through these robots, people can be reached more easily and be taken out of their isolation.”
In this process it is essential to keep communicating with the people who need care. We must prevent that they keep getting more and more isolated from their surroundings and are only capable of communicating with robots. And that is where the human caretakers are still needed.
Bridging the gap
Healthcare robots are also a great ‘tool’ to help people with autism to teach them social skills in an accessible way. A lot of people with autism are scared of human interaction. Robots are predictable, they have an endless amount of patience and they can be programmed into a very strict routine. Professor Joshua Diehl of the Notre Dame University in Indiana explains: “The way we communicate is very complex. We use gestures, facial expressions and we constantly change the tone of our voice. All these things happen at the same time, which can be very intimidating for an autistic child. If robots are the way to bridge this communication gap, it can open a lot of doors.”
“If robots are the way to bridge this communication gap, it can open a lot of doors.”
Finding a solution
In this time of a rapidly aging world it is also necessary to find a solution for the threatening shortage of healthcare workers. Not only the workers that take care of elderly people or people with autism are needed, but also the people who take care of the medical transport activities, the doctors who need to operate with incredible precision and the people who help with rehabilitation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the shortage will reach up to 12.9 million in 2035.
If we keep ignoring these figures and if we do not put our fears of robotization aside, we will never be able to keep up with the growing shortage of healthcare workers. Wake up, humans. The robots are here to help.