A robotic nursing assistant can take patients' vital signs, making room for nurses to perform other tasks

A robotic nursing assistant can take patients’ vital signs, making room for nurses to perform other tasks

SINGAPORE – The successful trial of a robot that takes patients’ vital signs at their bedside at Alexandra Hospital (AH) has shown that it can replace at least two of the hospital’s nursing staff over the course of a year.

It hints at a possible future where nurses are supported by robotic nursing assistants on the wards.

Florence, the robotic nursing assistant, can identify patients by scanning their wrist tag or using AI-based image recognition software before taking their vital signs using a camera, sensors and pulse oximeter. The data goes directly to the National Electronic Health Record.

It can also deliver medications, snacks, or other items to patients. When he approaches the patient’s bed, he can detect which side of the bed the patient is closest to, so he can move to that side.

When calculating workforce savings, AH, which co-created Florence with NCS, the technology services arm of Singtel, looked at the time nurses would spend taking vital signs and administering medications and items to patients, said project manager Desmond Koh.

Florence was created with a grant of about $1.8 million from the National Robotics Program, a multi-agency effort tasked with developing the local ecosystem for robots. Tried for eight months through April. AH now plans to test it at another hospital as part of the grant requirements.

As automation and robotics continue to be tested to see if they can help improve patient care and address the workforce crisis in the healthcare sector, they will become a more common sight for patients.

The three healthcare groups, who have traditionally worked on their innovations independently, have been encouraged to collaborate and share their projects.

Professor Tina Wong, executive director of the National Health Innovation Center (NHIC), said she recently launched a grant to accelerate the adoption of health technology innovations across the three clusters, and wants to facilitate collaboration by helping to solve problems that can arise from differences in workflow in the clusters.

NHIC, a program of the Singapore Clinical Research and Innovation Consortium, facilitates the development of medical technologies, including H-Man, Portable medical robot arm It is used in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) to help patients undergo upper limb rehabilitation treatment independently.

Professor Wong said that the local startup Articares, which developed it, plans to deploy H-Man in hospitals in other healthcare clusters in 2023.

In hospitals, automation and robotics can help improve workflows and allow nurses to spend more time with patients. Doreen Heng, assistant director of nursing at AH, who was involved in the development of Florence, said the robot could free up nurses to do other value-added nursing tasks, including going on home visits.

Professor Lawrence Hu, director of the Center for Healthcare Innovation under the National University Health System, said whether Florence will be rolled out in a big way depends on whether the workforce savings are worth the cost of the robots, which has yet to be determined. He added that it would have to be significantly increased to bring down the cost.

“I think, in the end, we have to accept robots,” Professor Hu said. “I embrace all robotics because the issue for me is whether we are willing to abandon our current workflows, because for technology to be adopted, you have to unlearn and relearn.

“Letting go of learning is hard because we stick with what we know. It’s our strength. So instead of saying you’re helpless now, this robot will take your job, (you say it) you’ll be more powerful, and the robots are here to be your helper.”

Today, patients will not only see robots created in Singapore, such as Florence, being tested in hospitals, but also robots bought off the shelves, such as timmy the robot, Which was called iPad on Wheels.

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