That’s because at Changi General Hospital (CGH), more than 50 members of staff are robots.
From performing surgery to carrying out administrative work, robots have become an integral part of the 1,000-bed hospital’s workforce, says Selina Seah, director for the Centre for Healthcare Assistive and Robotics Technology (CHART), which works with CGH to find high-tech solutions for problems in healthcare.
While CHART has been operating since 2015, the pandemic has created a new need for contactless and remote healthcare solutions.
Singapore already has the highest adoption rate of industrial robots anywhere in the world, with 9 per 100 workers — but that is mostly in the electronics sector. Now, Seah hopes robots can make healthcare more accessible, affordable, and higher quality, as well as safer for pandemic situations.
“There is growing awareness that robots are becoming more important in our work,” says Seah. “Due to Covid-19 and the fact that we have to take care of more patients with less manpower, robots are now a welcome part of our daily life.”
“The three tsunamis”
That’s where robots can help. CHART is trying to boost productivity using assistive technology and robotics.
Surgical robots such as the da Vinci Surgical System are among the best-known robots in the hospital, says Seah. These robots act as the human surgeon’s eyes, assisting with minimally invasive surgeries.
Outside of the operating theaters, other robots clean, deliver linen or food, help with hospital maintenance, aid patient rehabilitation, and even assist with lifting patients back into bed, helping reduce the “back-breaking” work that human carers take on, says Seah.
“It’s quite common for our young nurses to get backaches two or three years into the job. Robots can do this dangerous, manual work so that our nurses then can concentrate on providing good clinical care for our patients,” says Seah.
A smart solution
Virtual health services is another area where CGH has seen technology deliver an improvement.
Social robots have also been deployed to provide care and companionship for elderly patients with dementia, playing memory games and helping with group therapy. One of the social robots, PARO, helped alleviate stress and anxiety so much the hospital was able to reduce its use of sedatives for dementia patients, says Seah.
“We thought the aged patients would not take well to the robots,” she says. “However, we discovered in our research that the elderly patients look at robots like life-sized toys. So they are brought back to their childhood and in fact, able to interact and respond better to therapy with robots than they do with a human.”
“More meaningful” lives
Assisting healthcare workers to take on roles that are laborious or require high levels of precision is where robots can contribute most, says Marcelo Ang, a professor of mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore’s Advanced Robotics Center.
The opportunity to increase efficiency and safety, particularly during challenging times like the Covid-19 pandemic, has made the challenges worthwhile for CGH.
“This is how we think we should use technology: to help us reach out to more patients so they get better-quality care,” she says.