More than 50 robots work in Singapore’s high-tech hospital

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Indeed, at Changi General Hospital (CGH), more than 50 staff are robots.

From surgery to administrative work, robots have become an integral part of the 1,000-bed hospital workforce, says Selina Seah, director of the Center for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Technology (CHART), which works with CGH to find cutting edge technologies. solutions to health problems.

While CHART has been operating since 2015, the pandemic has created a new need for contactless and remote health solutions.

Singapore already has the highest industrial robot adoption rate in the world, at 9 per 100 workers, but that’s mostly in the electronics sector. Now Seah hopes robots can make healthcare more accessible, affordable and of better quality, as well as safer in the event of a pandemic.

“There is a growing awareness that robots are becoming more and more important in our work,” Seah says. “Due to Covid-19 and the fact that we have to take care of more patients with less manpower, robots are now an integral part of our daily life.”

“The three tsunamis”

By 2030, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there will be a global shortage of 18 million healthcare workers.
This is a big concern for small countries like Singapore. With a population aged 65 and over expected to drop from 14% in 2019 to 25% over the next decade, the city of Lion is particularly vulnerable to the “three tsunamis” in the health sector, according to Seah: a population aging, a shrinking workforce, and an increase in chronic disease.
The robots at Changi General Hospital (CGH) are all managed using "RoMi-H"  - a communication system that controls things such as its sensors and data.
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This is where robots can help. CHART tries to increase productivity by using assistive technology and robotics.

Surgical robots such as the da Vinci Surgical System are among the hospital’s best-known robots, Seah explains. These robots act like the eyes of the human surgeon, assisting minimally invasive surgeries.

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Outside of operating rooms, other robots clean, deliver linens or food, help with hospital maintenance, help with patient rehabilitation, and even help put patients back to bed, helping thus reducing the “back-breaking” work that human caregivers do, says Seah.

“It’s quite common for our young nurses to have back pain after two or three years of work. Robots can do this dangerous manual work so that our nurses can then focus on providing good clinical care to our patients, ”says Seah.

A smart solution

Another area where CGH has seen an improvement in technology is virtual health services.

Noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes are on the rise, responsible for around 71% of deaths worldwide each year, adding additional strain on already strained health systems, Seah says. Realizing that repeated hospital visits by chronically ill patients were not sustainable, CGH adopted a smart ‘telecare’ system that allows physicians to monitor patients who are at home and quickly identify them. problems, says Seah.
The hospital now has more than 50 robots that help with tasks ranging from surgery to cleaning.

Social robots have also been deployed to provide care and support for elderly patients with dementia, playing memory games and helping with group therapy. One of the social robots, PARO, helped relieve stress and anxiety so much that the hospital was able to reduce its use of sedatives for dementia patients, Seah explains.

“We thought that elderly patients would not accept robots well,” she says. “However, we have found in our research that elderly patients view robots as life-size toys. They are therefore taken back to their childhood and, in fact, able to interact and respond better to therapy with robots than they are. with a human. ”

“More Meaningful” Lives

CGH isn’t the only hospital to reap the benefits of AI-powered employees. In 2017, robots were employed to support staff at Copenhagen University Hospital with increased demand for blood sample testing, and autonomous mobile robots at Zealand University Hospital in Denmark travel more than 10 kilometers every week around the hospital to deliver equipment, thus avoiding heavy loads for staff. lifting.
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Helping healthcare workers take on roles that are laborious or require high levels of precision is where robots can contribute the most, says Marcelo Ang, professor of mechanical engineering at the Center for Advanced Robotics at the National University of Singapore.

“Robotics has great potential to make people’s lives more meaningful, by allowing them not to do the ‘five D’s: degrading, demeaning, dirty, dangerous or driven tasks,’ Ang said, adding that robots do not replace workers, but support. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2025, up to 85 million jobs will be lost due to automation in certain sectors; however, it is estimated that 97 million new roles will be created in others.
The pandemic has accelerated the development of robotics and logistics, Ang said, stressing the risks healthcare workers take every day. In May 2021, the WHO estimates that at least 115,000 healthcare workers worldwide have died from Covid.
Autonomous robots can clean and disinfect rooms remotely, while telehealth technology can allow physicians to virtually meet with patients. Seeing the demand for remote healthcare solutions, Hanson Robotics of Hong Kong, the team behind the android “Sophia,” unveiled their latest creation, Grace, a human-like robot designed for the healthcare industry. , which can diagnose patients using artificial intelligence and lead therapy sessions.
However, integrating robots into the workplace is expensive and requires expensive infrastructure, Seah explains. Another concern is data privacy and security, she said, adding that hospitals will need robust cybersecurity to prevent hackers.

The opportunity to increase efficiency and safety, especially during difficult times like the Covid-19 pandemic, made the challenges interesting for CGH.

“This is how we think we should use technology: to help us reach more patients so that they receive better quality care,” she says.

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