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Service Robots, Artificial Intelligence Gaining Steam in Healthcare –

By Samantha McGrail

June 26, 2020 – A new study showed that technological advancements in healthcare, including service robots, artificial intelligence, and digital communication, has the ability to improve performances of the industry as a whole and can be used in response to the challenges facing the industry in the future, such as COVID-19 outbreaks. 

The drivers of the technological change include increasing access to healthcare and reducing cost of care, consolidating and coordinating healthcare delivery, facilitating chronic disease prevention and management, and responding to demographic trends, researchers said.  

The study leveraged interviews from hospitals and home agency administrators, union representatives, healthcare IT experts and consultants, and technology developers from April 2018 to June 2019.

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Researchers uncovered three types of emerging technologies most aligned to the healthcare sector’s guiding objectives, including digital communications and telepresence, semi-autonomous service robots, and artificial intelligence. 

Digital communications technologies have a broad range of applications, including in the home care setting and virtual patient care, such as telehealth, telemedicine, and telehospitals. 

Digital technologies have allowed a smoother transition from paper-based to electronic health records and allowed for richer and more efficient ways of leveraging interconnected health records, researchers said.

Caregiver machines accept external commands from patients and providers and can operate on their own by taking in information, processing, and reacting. A machine like a service robot keeps both patients and providers safe during a pandemic by lessening contact. 

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare is also becoming more and more widespread. AI has an ability to “teach” itself, rather than following predetermined directions given by programmers, which makes it more useful than other technologies. 

Machine learning, a form of AI, allows technology to develop its own rules and response by learning from already existing data, and can essentially enhance existing digital technology, researchers explained. 

How providers leverage this technology is dependent on what they want to address specifically.

For example, electronic visit verification (EVV) monitors direct care workers through a smartphone. This technology has facilitated documentation but it has also boosted micro-management of workers, researchers said.

On the other hand, the same workers could use similar technology, such as AI, in a very different manner. AI could be used to decrease workforce, justify more limited activities, and pay for workers. 

AI also has the potential to free up time for workers to focus on other activities, such as skills where humans excel compared to robots, including empathy and communication, researchers said. 

But the overall consequences of technological change in health care will depend on the choices policymakers and industry stakeholders make in this current moment of crisis and in the future. 

Researchers emphasized three main choice points providers should focus on when deploying technologies. Those included not underestimating the power of payment models, encouraging experimentation and novel uses of technology, and prioritizing the work, not the technology.

Provider organizations should only invest in a technology if it is affordable for them financially. The shift toward value-based care will likely accelerate the adoption and diffusion of quality-enhancing health care technologies. 

Careful experimentation will be necessary to assess the effectiveness and quality of care delivered virtually. Policymakers should assess the effectiveness of technologies intended to empower front-line workers with better health care information and patient data.

Providers should also use a work-centered approach to new technology, researchers said. They should focus on what direct care workers and other staff are really good at and how technology might highlight those strengths, researchers advised.