Bedside robots could take on about one-third of the tasks now done by nurses, and almost a quarter of that done by hospital doctors, according to a recent study by former health minister Lord Darzi. These carebots could ultimately save the National Health Service about £12.5bn a year, which is a tenth of its budget. The aim is not to replace the doctors and nurses, but to reduce the workload and enable them to spend more quality time with patients. We will even see these robots engaging in social behavior with patients, however, we must be careful not to let this responsibility slip too far in the opposite direction. Currently, it rests on the friends and family (and caretakers) to make the individual feel loved and connected. Oftentimes, the patient or elderly individual may not have any friends or family left, or the friends and family simply don’t devote enough time to attending to their social requirements. This is where we will see carebots serve an absolutely essential role.
The social element is where will see a lot of initial promise with these carebots. Most of the elderly are simply unable to care for a pet. If they had one that they could turn on and off then they wouldn’t have the anxiety that comes with having to take care of a pet. There is conclusive evidence that human-animal interactions have many benefits across the entire age spectrum. These benefits include improvement of social attention, behavior, interpersonal interaction and mood. Reduction of stress, heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety is another benefit. They can also assist with the improvement of mental and physical health. Of course, the first few iterations of these robots won’t have as profound an impact as a real animal, but the initial research does seem promising. If we can begin to get these robots around the lonely and debilitated, I think we will see a dramatic shift in the perception of this type of technology.