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File picture: Pexels

Robots, healthcare and Covid-19

By Wesley Diphoko Time of article published Jul 3, 2020

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The entry of robots into the mainstream has been resisted for valid reasons such as its impact on jobs. Current health circumstances however should inspire a review of that perception for robots. 

The risk exposure by some professionals should be the main driving force behind the adoption of tools that can still carry out critical work while protecting human beings from exposure. Health professionals  are high on this list of exposed professionals.

In view of this risk by health professionals, Professor Coenie Koegelenberg saw a need for robots at Tygerberg hospital and led the process of developing the robot for the Tygerberg Hospital. 

The robot called Quintin has been instrumental in protecting health professionals from being exposed to patients who infect patients with a life threatening disease. The challenge however is that this robot due to costs and other factors is only operating in a single hospital and only saving the lives of only a  few health professionals. 

Considering the number of health professionals that are contracting the COVID-19 disease, there should be more efforts towards deploying more robots in COVID-19 designated health institutions. Surely, health professionals can be assigned to lessor risky environments while robots are taking care of areas that are more risky. 

There's a huge need for robots in healthcare institutions. This need spreads beyond nursing to intensive care units and surgeries. Robots could also take on tasks such as cleaning and disinfecting contaminated environments.  

Some of these health-care professionals can still sit behind a screen and guide the robots or use the robots as means of interaction whilst they are located far from the patient with a potential to infect the healthcare worker.

There’s a need to build more robots such as Quintin before we loose more healthcare professionals. Another group of workers who are at risk are now known as essential workers. While it’s important to protect their jobs it is also important to protect their lives. In the process of protecting the lives of essential workers, robots should be considered as tools that can complement workers to protect them from harm.

The current health situation facing mankind requires a mindshift from the thinking of protecting jobs at all costs while exposing people to danger. Technology should be seen as an important tool in carrying out risky work. People should be reassigned to environments that allow them to be the brains behind a technology tool that is in the frontlines. 

There was a time when the adoption of robots into the mainstream society was seen as a futuristic tool and a threat. Current conditions should expedite the adoption of technologies that were seen as futuristic to solve present challenges.

Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-In-Chief of the Fast Company (SA) magazine.

This article was originally published in Fast Company.

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