We Are Not Robots…


Recently, the Saskatoon Health Region announced the addition of a robot to the department of Neurosurgery at Royal University Hospital.  The robot, named Patrick, was a donation to the Hospital and the first to be used in Canada.  It’s function mimicks many of the duties currently performed by a Nurse.  It even has it’s own stethoscope. While I am a fan of new technologies (ones that work and are a little fun especially), I am no fan of a Robot emulating..no, replacing a ward nurse.

The goal, according to this Star Phoenix article, is for Patrick to be able to perform basic diagnostic functions (like listening to the patient’s lung sounds), participate in bedside rounds, and “allow the nurse to see several patients in a timely fashion”. In a perfect world, or perhaps a science-fiction world, medical care might be best delivered by robots…provided they’ve had several hundred years of design and redesign above the beta level of testing Patrick is to undergo.  And if patient care is a matter of ‘flow’ and process and waste reduction, then robotic care is certainly a future within our grasp.

This begs the question: “What’s the value of a Nurse in the first place?”  I mean if all we are doing is wasting time running for call bells, emptying urinals and bedpans, turning patients, changing pads, checking IV’s and giving meds…couldn’t a robot do that too?  If you ask a patient what makes a good or bad experience while they were in the hospital, they will tell you it was the level of care they received from their Nurse.  It wasn’t whether they held the stethoscope in the right position or answering a call bell in 2.5 seconds. It was that the patient was heard, touched, spoken compassionately to, supported and loved by that Nurse.  Patrick does not have those capabilities as far as I know.

‘Patrick’ the robot being unveiled at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon

What is also true (and sad) is that Doctors, like Dr. Mendez, appear to have discarded the value of the Doctor-Nurse and Doctor-Patient relationship and the value of communication between human beings in favor of techological progress.  But what must be noted is that patients regularly report having never seen their doc during their entire stay in hospital.  I wonder how seeing him/her on Patricks computer screen is much of an improvement.   Nurses also report that Doctors don’t always or adequately communicate their plan of care to the Nurse.  Collegiality as we are taught in Nursing school is important for good patient outcomes (see this study on Nurse/Physician relationships and it’s affect on care).  The reality in the workplace is that it is often highly one-sided with Nurses wanting more collaborative and collegial relationships with Physicians, but unable to bridge the perceived power gap.  The impact of this struggle ultimately translates into a lack of confidence in the Health Care System by it’s most important stakeholders: the Patients.

I probably shouldn’t be too critical of Patrick as I haven’t actually seen him in action, nor do I know all the things he is capable of doing.  Heck, for all I know he could be making Nurses and Doctors ‘duties’ more efficient, thereby allowing them to have more time to give that personal touch and kind word.  But when we have not fully reached our ‘human’ potential  (and as nurses we have yet to be the best we can be in our profession), it seems that the introduction of a Robot like Patrick is kind of like cheating.  How can we say how Patrick will do the job right when we are failing to do the job better?

Here’s another article in the same vein….(pun intended): http://www.johnehrenfeld.com/2009/10/caring-robots–this-really-is.html



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