The United Nations estimates that by the year 2050 the senior population will grow to nearly 17%.
This rapid shift is already causing pressure on the senior care industry, with long-term care facilities and home care agencies reporting employee shortages. Stressed workers find themselves serving more patients and working longer hours, and are leaving the industry for other opportunities. Those who remain are demanding increased pay.
Even providers who receive help from government programs such as the American Medicare system say reimbursements don’t match wage increases needed to maintain staffing levels. These costs inevitably pass to families who depend on senior care services. In the United States, for example, the average yearly cost of home health care for seniors is $48,000. The shortage of senior care workers in the United Kingdom has become so severe that visas are being expedited for immigrants who work in this field.
One solution is automation in healthcare, which lies in the use of Autonomous Mobile Robots, or AMRs. AMRs are becoming common in hospitals and doctor’s offices, taking some of the burden from stressed workers, keeping costs in line and improving patient outcomes. This pattern extends to elder care, as robots become an essential part of long-term care and assisted living facilities.
AMRs as Workers
Robots, such as Yujin Robot’s GoCart series, are becoming a common site at hospitals and residential senior care facilities worldwide. These mobile helpers free human workers for less repetitive, more complicated tasks. Telepresence robots connect residents to physicians, therapists and family members who can’t be on-site.
Auckland New Zealand is home to Mercy Parkland Hospital, a 97 bed senior care facility, and has been the site of a proof-of-concept GoCart test. GoCart robots have busily served residents by delivering meals and afternoon tea, collecting dirty dishes, shuttling specimens to the microbiology lab, and carrying medicine from the pharmacy.
GoCart has had a similar impact in testing at the Ave Maria Foundation in Sitges, Spain. Administrators embraced AMRs after realizing that over 2,000 labor hours per year were spent simply carrying items from one place to another. Nurses, technicians, and other skilled workers were bogged down with this simple, repetitive task. Once GoCart entered the scene and assumed those duties, staff was able to devote more time to direct patient care.
Steve Lindsey, CEO of Garden Spot Village in Lancaster, PA, was eager to try GoCart, and welcomed testing at his facility. In addition to carrying food, medicine, linens, and other supplies, Lindsey noticed another application. Busy maintenance workers sometimes realize during a project that they need tools left behind. Rather than trudging back and forth wasting valuable time, the tools can be delivered by GoCart, keeping workers working.
AMRs for Home Care
Remarkably, AMRs for senior care are beginning to find a home in, well, homes. Government groups such as the National Science Foundation in the United States work with universities and private research groups to define and develop AMR that take some of the burden from home health workers and improve care.
Robotics researchers at Washington State University have introduced an elder care robot named RAS for in-home use. This Autonomous Mobile Robot reminds seniors to take medication at the right times, and leads seniors through tasks such as preparing meals and paying bills. RAS navigates safely through the home, and will lead their human friend to medicine, food or other household items.
RAS keeps track of its human’s whereabouts and wellbeing, proactively offering help when the senior appears confused or immobile, recording vital signs and recognizing signs of distress. If the human falls or issues a cry for help, RAS can request emergency assistance.
A Changing Paradigm
Scholars who study innovation refer to something called adjacency, which is the idea that because one set of circumstances exists, and only because that set of circumstances exists, another circumstance becomes inevitable. Such is the case with Autonomous Mobile Robots in the world of elder care.
AMR have already proven themselves in a variety of healthcare scenarios. The over-65 population is growing beyond the limits of the current system. The inevitable result is that mobile robots will become a necessary and permanent part of senior citizen healthcare.