Funds will solely depend on friday might want Quick Cash Loan Quick Cash Loan to only can either the clock.

Skip to content

Robot nurses, encouraging us with witty conversation

David E. Williams

David E. Williams

When you scan through your blogroll, every once in a blue moon you read something that’s just… nuts.  You read it again, to make sure you read it right the first time.  Yep, just plain nuts.  This doesn’t happen very often.

It happened to me today.  Here is David E. Williams, posting about the nursing shortage, on the consistently excellent Health Care Blog:

The second solution essentially means replacing at least some nurses (or some of their functions) with technology, including robots. A lot of things nurses do will be doable by machine, if not this year then certainly by 2025. These robots will take many forms, but one could certainly be as a “personal medical assistant” that handles most mundane functions. It could check vitals, provide encouragement, remind patients to take their medications, and go beyond those tasks to other areas, such as playing games, cleaning the house, making food, and even engaging in pleasant conversation.  [Emphasis added.]

Wow.  Not really much for me to say — you either find this completely nuts, or you don’t.  But come on — providing encouragement and engaging in pleasant conversation are two of the furthest things from “mundane functions” that I can think of in all of medicine — and maybe in all of life.

My question: what has Mr. Williams been smoking?


  1. Thanks for the mention, Carey. Haven’t been smoking anything, sorry.

    I know some people find the notion of robot caregivers far-fetched, and that some nurses find it threatening and even insulting.

    However this really isn’t science fiction. It’s just looking ahead a few years.

    If you’re game, let’s both make a note to check in 5 years from now and see if our perspectives have changed.

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 5:15 am | Permalink
  2. Carey wrote:

    Thank you, David, for commenting.

    I remember when I was in kindergarten, I had a lunchbox decorated with scenes from one of the least popular sci-fi shows on TV in the early ’70s — “Space:1999.” (I’m sure you won’t remember it.) The lunchbox had star-trekky pictures of little spaceships on it. It was a vision of 1999 imagined in 1974.

    Well, 1999 finally rolled around, and not only was I not flying around in a spaceship, I was still being carted around in the same old 4-door Volvo (although now I was the driver). Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were still waiting to do their reprise of their Ford administration years in the Bush administration. In short, things were still much more like 1974 than they were like “Space: 1999.”

    I’d be happy to check into this again in five years. Who knows? I might have to eat my words.

    But in my lifetime, there have only been one or two astounding technological leaps of the magnitude that “robot nurses” would be, compared with thousands of starry-eyed predictions of technological change that never panned out (mostly for economic and not technological reasons).

    So we’ll see. Maybe robot nurses will turn out to be the internet of 2015.

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  3. Peter wrote:

    Ah, I can see it now. Lying there in my hospital bed with Artoo-Detoo pleasantly relating the pleasant experiances he had in quiet cafes, art galleries, and jazz concerts on his last trip to the planet Zog. Oh how pleasant. Of course all this would be coming across in beeps, whistles, and hums none of which I would understand. I understood however why he was here. The human flesh and blood nurse couldn’t leave her desk at he nurses’ station because she had an unbelievable amount of routine paperwork to wade through before the end of her shift. She knew though that she could finish the paperwork in her car while her personal robot drove her home. Oh how pleasant.

    Thursday, December 31, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  4. Kayvon Alizadeh wrote:

    Approximately 100,000 people die each year because of medical errors. Nurses are by far no exception to this rule and likey comprise a large fraction of this death rate. To supplant their responsibilities with a system(robotic, machine, whatever), that does NOT make mistakes would save lives PERIOD. Take for example anesthesia. 30 yrs ago the death rate for low risk surgery was approx 1/2500-5000. Now the risk of death in same risk surgery is 1/100,000-200,000 (anesthesia risk given same ASA risk). This reduction in mortality is from safer medicines and advancements in anesthesia machine and monitors. Drugs can be titrated to effect because of this technology. Yet however it is still semi-open circuit anesthesia-meaning it requires physician/nurse judgement to dispense the medicine at a given time. Nonetheless, it is only a matter of time(and yes in our lifetime), when the engineers develop a painmeter and volumemeter (the two last frontiers in anesthesia), making the nurse anesthetist and anesthesiologist obsolete.

    Maybe it was a MIS-print on your lunchbox…and they really meant 2099?

    Friday, January 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Permalink
  5. Carey wrote:

    “To supplant their responsibilities with a system(robotic, machine, whatever), that does NOT make mistakes would save lives PERIOD.”

    I agree. Let’s automate what we can automate; I’m all for that. My objection to robot nurses is not that I think people should be doing everything, it’s that people are the only ones who can “provide encouragement” and “engage in pleasant conversation.”

    I should say, only some people can do those things. No robot will be able to do them in my lifetime, I’m predicting.

    Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink
  6. Actually I enjoyed Space:1999 when it aired from 1975-77. Those lunch boxes weren’t available a few years earlier when I was in kindergarten (and my class was half-day anyway) but in first grade I had a “Rough Riders” lunch box, which featured a tough-looking guy on a motorcycle. I really liked it.

    Regarding the robots, I don’t think they’ll take over all nurse functions, but by 2025 they should be able to make up for whatever workforce shortage exists.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 6:42 am | Permalink
  7. Carey wrote:

    I’m surprised that show was mid-late 70′s. I remember watching Battlestar Galactica in 1978 and I would have thought any sci-fi show in ’77 would be right up my alley.

    Maybe not.

    Anyway, as soon as the robots get here, the first job I’m giving them is medication administration. That should prevent a lot of errors.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. [...] to fill the nursing shortage has taken a lot of flak from commenters on the Health Care Blog and Glorfindel of Gondolin, who wants to know what I’ve been smoking. The big objection seems to be to my suggestion [...]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *