Nurses Prefer Robots over Humans: Rosie the Robot Provides Help with Caregiving

First Posted: Apr 30, 2013 08:47 AM EDT

Rosie the Robot from the Jetsons might seem a bit farfetched; after all, a robotic maid isn't likely to appear in homes any time soon. Yet roboticists are already looking to the future. They're developing machines that have the potential to help patients with caregiving tasks, such as housework, feeding and walking. Now, they're asking healthcare providers whether or not these robots would be a good idea.

Nurses and nursing assistants provide help to those who need it, performing caregiving tasks for the disabled. Yet sometimes, they need a little help; that's where the robots come in. In order to find out how widely accepted they'd be, though, researchers asked healthcare providers whether they would utilize a robot. Their answers may surprise you.

It turns out that nurses and nursing assistants would actually prefer a robot over a human if they were offered an assistant. That said, they wouldn't want robots to help with everything. Instrumental activities of daily living (IDALs) were acceptable for robots. These tasks included helping with housework and reminding patients when to take medication. Activities daily living (ADL) tasks, though, were another matter. Healthcare providers would prefer a human assistant when it came to direct, physical interactions such as bathing, getting dressed and feeding people.

"One open question was whether healthcare providers would reject the idea of robotic assistants out of fear that the robots would replace them in the workplace," said Tracy Mitzner, one of the study's leaders, in a news release. "This doesn't appear to be a significant concern. In fact, the professional caregivers we interviewed viewed robots as a way to improve their jobs and the care they're able to give patients."

More specifically, healthcare providers thought the robots would be extremely useful when it came to lifting patients from a bed to a chair or checking vitals. Essentially, robots were viewed as useful tools that could be utilized for tasks that are sometimes difficult or time consuming.

"Robots aren't being designed to eliminate people," said Mitzner in a news release. "Instead, they can help reduce physical demands and workloads."

The findings of this poll will be presented April 27 to May 2 at the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, France.

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