A few years ago we wrote about Veebot when we collected the most exciting tasks robots could do in hospitals. (See the recently updated version of the article here.) Veebot created a robot that could draw blood – in difficult cases faster and even more effectively than a human. Tests showed that it can correctly identify the most accessible vein with an 83% accuracy. This is about as good as an experienced human phlebotomist. Moreover, with this technology, the blood-drawing process takes only about a minute.

Veebot’s video was hugely popular because they wanted to robotise a process known to and disliked by everyone. It turned out that everyone wanted the result this robot could achieve – but without the robot itself.

Some years went by and the concept turned into reality. Vitestro recently announced that their blood-drawing robot, officially called an ‘Autonomous blood drawing device, combining artificial intelligence, ultrasound imaging and robotics’, has already performed 1500 blood draws on 1000+ patients. The company will launch pivotal clinical studies in 2023 for regulatory approval, and they expect the device to hit the market in the European Union in 2024.

Are you afraid of a blood draw?

Blood draws are one of the most common clinical procedures, and, as we wrote earlier, it’s unlikely to change anytime soon. (Remember Theranos?) There is simply no other means to draw a sufficient amount of blood from the patients otherwise. And despite the fact that it’s a common procedure, it’s fairly difficult for nurses and medical professionals to get enough routine. I clearly remember when I first had to take blood as a doctor: the patient, a kind, old lady was as scared as I was; I was trying to comfort her as much as myself. It would be good to spare such an experience for medics and patients alike.

But this will come as no surprise: people don’t like needles or giving blood. Many people have straightforward fears related to these. So much so that we have multiple names for these fears like haemophobia, trypanophobia, BII and so on. Healthcare professionals themselves often struggle with finding the veins in patients (or can’t find the veins at all) as these can be particularly hard to find; for example when the patient is obese, dehydrated, has certain severe chronic conditions – or simply has small or inelastic veins. In these patients, healthcare professionals only have an average success rate of 73% in finding the veins with the needle.

Although there are devices to support blood draws in these cases (like vein scanners that can help detect veins), these are mind-blowingly expensive and can’t help in every case. But robots can. 

Source: The Guardian

Why is it irritating if robots are touching us?

Because there is this issue with robots. We humans seem to be sort of afraid of them. The more human-like they become, the more we tend to resent them. And this is even the case if they can do a better job than humans – we don’t want them to do so. This is a burden we must overcome as another cultural shift on our route towards digital healthcare.

A few years ago news came out of a robotic blood draw solution with striking examples in their clinical trial about their success rate. The automated blood drawing robot of Rutgers University’s research team could in some cases outperform human professionals doing the same task. Their research showed that the robot (that also includes a blood analyser) could free up time for nurses and doctors to spend more time treating patients instead of jabbing them with needles.

Automatisation as the ultimate solution

The robot won’t just assume they know where the vein runs – it actually sees it. Its hands never shake, it is never overworked, it won’t get tired – and it frees up valuable nurse time.

Nurses would still need to be present to provide empathy and support to the patient. But the burden of the obligatory ‘doing well’ is not on their shoulders. Process automation would also provide a level of safety for the patient. 

Robots in hospitals

The pandemic has been good for robots. They are effectively deployed in many fields. Over the past years, we could hear about disinfectant robots, surgical robots, robots supporting telehealth, robots doing health checks in kindergartens, and so on. The list is endless. From humanoids to ‘tablet-on-a-stick’-kind of devices, the aim is to support humans by taking the weight off of their shoulders.

as COVID led to the use of many advanced technologies we have already been preaching (and doing research about), maybe some could remain in use even after the pandemic
Disinfectant robot in a hospital – once science fiction now a reality

The fact that they could take part in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in hospitals and help prevent hospital-acquired infections gave these devices a much-needed extra boost. They thereby could finally move out of the “sometimes cute but often useless”-category and found a suitable field where they can really be helpful for the people actually working in hospitals. Like in the case of blood samples taken by robots.

It’s not at all a far-fetched idea, although we honestly think this concept is still in its infancy (read here why we think this way, recent update on the tech here). However, such sci-fiesque technologies present a fertile ground for a forward-looking discussion that’ll help to understand the task of technologies that seem strange at the first sight.

We trust MRI scans. Why don’t we trust robots?

As patients, we already interact with plenty of technologies in modern medicine that we don’t understand. We lie still for MRI scans. We allow CT tests or X-rays to be done, besides examinations with all kinds of other valuable devices and machines in the hospital setting. 

At The Medical Futurist, our goal is to support healthcare organisations, governments and medical professionals in adopting digital health technologies. We strive to build a community that can drive healthcare innovation worldwide and facilitate the pragmatic and the cultural changes that are needed.

In our vision, we all (medical professionals, patients, institutions and policymakers) make use of the cutting-edge technologies that surround us – but at the core of all healthcare interactions are the people who care for and listen to each other.

We’re just waiting for someone to implement it.

The post Would You Let A Robot Take Your Blood Sample? appeared first on The Medical Futurist.

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