Application of robots in the medical field

August.31,2021

Robots have been applied in the medical field for some time, mainly behind the scenes, and the application has been rapidly expanded in the last five years, including a variety of ancillary applications for doctors, nurses, caregivers and patients in hospitals and nursing facilities.

1630419865597101.pngDrug development and production

Robot applications have covered the entire drug supply chain, from basic research to drug production, quality testing and packaging.Robotics help develop key new therapies; provide patients with faster medical checks, help pharmaceutical companies meet increasingly stringent drug production regulations and maximize drug efficiency.

Since industrial robots originated in manufacturing, they are mostly used in the manufacturing stages of the drug development life cycle.Technologies for performing repetitive tasks with high accuracy and accuracy are highly mature.The focus of robots in the manufacturing process focuses on filling, assembly and packaging stages such as filling and container labeling, finished products such as assembly syringes and finished packaging.

While robot applications themselves are mature, the specifications for robots used in the pharmaceutical and medical fields are often much more stringent than those in other industries.For example, working in a clean room or sterile environment requires the installation of special filtration and ventilation systems to prevent emissions of gases and particulate matter.Clean-room robot surfaces are usually of treated stainless steel and are no longer sprayed to prevent dust and dirt attachment while facilitating proper cleaning and disinfection.

Robots are less mature for laboratory drug development and testing, but are gradually improving.Robots can perform operations such as drip suction pipettes and vial filling, relieving scientists and technicians from tedious and repetitive tasks in laboratories, with more time to focus on scientific research and protect them from repetitive strain.

Most research laboratories are not automated, and smaller laboratories have short business scope and running times, meaning that robots do not yet have a cost advantage in these areas.But this is changing, especially with the rise of collaborative robots (Cobots) capable of working side by side with humans and double-arm robots capable of performing multiple tasks, such as using double-arm robots in biomedical laboratories.

Robots have become increasingly mature in heavily tested hospital laboratories.For example, due to the adoption of collaborative robots, the University of Copenhagen Hospital was still able to provide 90% of the sample results within one hour despite a 20% increase in blood samples.But traditional industrial robots are still able to be used in automatically sorting blood samples.Refer University Hospital, (https://ifr.org/case-studies/industrial-robots/on-the-path-to-hospital-4.0)

1630419865597101.pngPharmacy dispensing

Pharmacy dispensing is a relatively new robot application field, with broad development prospects.The use of robots improves the efficiency of pharmacy dispensing drugs, and most importantly the accuracy of dispensing.Medical errors such as dispensing errors cost $42 billion worldwide, according to the IMS

(Institute for Healthcare Informatics)

(https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2222541)。

According to a report published in the magazine “mHealth” by the University of Willar Teaching Hospital in the UK, medication errors decreased by 50% within four months after using the robot.

(https://thejournalofmhealth.com/how-robots-are-changing-community-pharmacy/)。

Robots are used in both hospitals and community pharmacies to handle drugs ordered online.For example, the Shanghai Seventh People's Hospital uses two robots to automatically dispensing drugs: one robot positioning the drug in the prescription, which is input online, while the second robot places the drug from each order in a basket

(https://new.abb.com/news/detail/70025/robots-revolutionize-drug-dispensing-at-shanghai-seventh-peoples-hospital)。

In the future, it is expected that the clamp development will further expand the application scenario of robots, including the handling of fine materials for laboratories and packaging. Robot vision technology will also be increasingly used for quality inspection and tracking. Visual technology is currently widely used in the pharmaceutical industry, but is not usually installed on robots. The application scenarios described above of the robots are almost entirely static, but there are already applications designed to mount the arm on a mobile base, enabling the robot to perform sequential tasks from one machine to another. ABB is developing a prototype for this concept at the Texas Medical Center.

(https://new.abb.com/news/detail/37301/abb-demonstrates-concept-of-mobile-laboratory-robot-for-hospital-of-the-future)

1630419865597101.pngPharmaceutical logistics

Despite using autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) in hospitals to deliver bedding, medicines and medical devices in hospitals for some time, this is still a relatively immature market as many hospitals, constrained by budget constraints, have not yet been automated.Many countries face a shortage of health care workers, which could spur the use of robots in hospitals.As AMR manufacturers thrive, component technology and installation aids become increasingly mature, with significantly higher cost effectiveness, and reduced overall cost of robot applications will further facilitate robot applications.

In a typical 200-bed hospital, the distance of transporting equipment and garbage is nearly 400 miles per week.It is estimated that using autonomous mobile robots can reduce each transport cost by 50-80% (https://aethon.com/mobile-robots-for-healthcare/), reducing the average distance that a nurse walks by 3-4 miles a day.Robots can reduce back damage to hospital staff from lift work and give nurses more time to focus on patients.

To be used in hospitals and nursing facilities, autonomous mobile robots need to coordinate elevators, and some robots can give simple voice commands to remind people not to be too close.Xilan University Hospital in Denmark uses an autonomous mobile robot to transport items from the hospital's disinfection facility (https://ifr.org/case-studies/service-robots/mobile-robot-transports-sterile-goods-in-hospital), traveling over 10 km per week, improved hospital services, minimizing storage space, reduced personnel walking time, and effectively preventing equipment shortages.

In the future, we need to develop standards for robots interacting with facilities such as elevators and doors.Communication protocols can make integration faster, thus reducing overall application costs.

In global contrast, some countries are far ahead in the testing and application of new technologies in the medical field.There are differences in private companies, often driven by competitive and high productivity demand; public-funded companies such as hospitals often have tight budgets and technologies that require long-term investments have not yet to be their focus.

Most of the cases seen so far, robots work alone or interact with trained staff, but, in healthcare, it has begun to use autonomous mobile robots and service robots of other types to make direct contact with patients.


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