How Delivery Robots Can Save Hospitals from the Nursing Shortage

How Delivery Robots Can Save Hospitals from the Nursing Shortage

Nursing is synonymous with long, hard hours; a result of demand for the noble profession exceeding registered supply. According to Thousand Oaks, California based American Journal of Medical Quality, the current nursing shortage in the United States is forecasted to continue through 2030.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the anticipated shortage will peak around 263,000 fewer nurses than required, over the next decade. As our population grows and the Baby Boomer generation moves into their golden years, the problem is expected to worsen.

Somewhat intuitively, London, UK based medical journal The Lancet reports that researchers have found that every 10% increase in bachelor-degreed nurses is associated with a 7% decrease in patient mortality.

The above headwinds are causing significant financial strife for hospitals to retain qualified nurses and maximize patient outcomes. Significant changes are needed, and quickly, to improve patient care quality, nurse job satisfaction and hospital operational costs.

Innovative Hospital Pilot Underway

On a brighter note, Ann Arbor, Michigan based robot delivery startup Bedestrian is working to upend the nursing shortage narrative in its recently announced hospital pilot with Royal Oak, Michigan based health care system Beaumont Hospital

The pilot is hoping to solve a delivery problem; specifically, the delivery of drugs, 40 to 100 times per day, between the hospital pharmacy lab and cancer center, departments positioned about a mile apart within the same building. The hospital hopes that by introducing delivery robots into this environment, they could realize up to $300,000 in annual, per-robot operational cost savings. A typical large US hospital of the future could see applications of as many as 50 delivery robots per site.

“We specifically wanted to launch in hospitals first as our focus is addressing delivery problems in densely populated urban environments,” says Shadi Mere, Founder & CEO of Bedestrian.

However, the plan is not for these delivery robots to replace nurses, far from it. The goal is to transition nurses’ already-limited time away from mundane tasks and toward higher-value patient care activities. In fact, the hospital plans to boldly leverage the robots’ visual and auditory capabilities to interact with patients, performing such tasks as distinguishing between adult and child patients, and greeting them as they pass in the corridors, hopefully garnering a few smiles.

Nurses Are Co-Creating Solutions

Instead of Bedestrian imposing what the robot’s dialog should be – e.g., deciding the command for opening their locked storage compartment or initiating a robotic delivery – the company is crafting delivery solutions as defined by the actual users, the nurses.

“We are proactively partnering with nurses to seek their guidance on how they prefer to interact with robots, after all they are the experts,” adds Mere.

An onsite Bedestrian deployment team asks nurses questions about the drug delivery, the type of preferred terminology to use, and then trains the robots. This upfront empathy toward nurses and patients is establishing trust and laying the foundation for faster and better results.

The Bedestrian B1 robot is small in stature, about the size of a wheelchair, giving it the flexibility to navigate narrow corridors inside buildings or around patients on sidewalks outside. The robot’s compact size allows for a multitude of future goods delivery applications in urban settings that require visual and auditory interaction with humans. The B1’s unique enabling technology platform is called Infobotics, a “voice first” interface with spatially-aware assisting voice intelligence.

Supply Partners are Key to Enabling Future Robot Delivery

The underlying technologies that compose compact two-to-three-to-four wheel last mile delivery robots such as Bedestrian, Refraction or Marble, are as complicated as automotive autonomous electric vehicles. Yes, low speeds provide some respite, but the void is filled with navigational interactions with unpredictable humans; a difficult technical challenge.

Gaining technical support for critical systems – e.g., microphones – along with timely affordable custom-manufactured components – e.g., plastic injection molded enclosures – via suppliers will remain critical determinants of success or failure for delivery robots. The production bill of material unit costs still need to decrease in order for hospital systems to generate compelling returns on investments utilizing delivery robots to alleviate the nursing shortage.

“Our early commitments to develop and nurture supplier relationships have proven tremendously valuable for us,” stresses Mere.

Early partners such as Tier I global mobility supplier Kariya, Japan based Denso Corporation, and State of Michigan economic development organizations and initiatives Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Planet M have helped to add credibility, funding and support for Bedestrian that’s often critical to facilitate industry-first, real-world pilots.

The application of delivery robots inside hospitals to alleviate the nursing shortage is an admirable endeavor that affects patient health and nurse job satisfaction. The evolving last-mile autonomous robot delivery market presents an ideal use case for addressing real-world health care problems. The technology appears well suited to address health care’s unique challenges. Further, the broader market opportunity is massive and currently wide-open, presenting exciting opportunities for mobility’s early movers to quickly expand into tangential markets.

-William