Robot solutions are nothing new in healthcare. As pressure grows across the healthcare sector, from vaccine development and testing through to patient care, the search for new ways to utilize robotic automation to fill gaps in production capacity and staff availability has intensified.
With its own dedicated innovation center, Karolinska University Hospital in Sweden has been actively searching for ways to realize the possibilities of automation to help provide improved levels of performance throughout its operations.
Working in collaboration with various organizations, including ABB, the hospital has been working to find ways to use robotic technology to perform a variety of tasks, from surgery and pediatric care through to transporting instruments, laundry and food.
“Our search for ways to use robotic automation to help improve the way we do things started a few years ago when we looked at the automation journey that other industries have made, and we thought about what we in healthcare could learn from them. We also understood that in the automation industry there is an interest in learning more about how healthcare works and what needs we have here,” says Annika Thoresson, Innovation Manager at “Innovationsplatsen”, the Center for Innovation at Karolinska University Hospital that supports the hospital's innovation work.
One area where automation has been deployed is the Karolinska University Laboratory. Millions of medical samples are handled here every year, and although fixed sorting automation helps to handle the large volumes, there was an identified need for improvements around the manual steps, many of which involve repetitive and laborious tasks.
“Many of the tasks that have to be performed in our laboratory are both monotonous and repetitive in nature. Manually handling the samples and performing the same movements for hours on end was putting stress on the wrists and shoulders of our laboratory operatives. We have for many years tried to find a good solution to help alleviate this problem,” says Lena Nyman, Section Manager at the pre-analytical unit at Karolinska University Laboratory.
ABB’s collaborative robot takes the strain
Installing an ABB´s collaborative robot has quite literally taken the strain out of the manual sampling process. Installed in 2019 the Karolinska University Laboratory, the robot is being used to scan test tubes and open transport sleeves. As well as releasing the laboratory operatives to perform other roles, collaborative robots’ involvement has also helped to put an end to aches and pains caused by having to carry out these repetitive tasks.
“When we got the collaborative robot up and running, we noticed very quickly that the work environment was very positively affected and that we saved the strain on our wrists,” says Lena Nyman. “In addition, time was freed up so that we could change our flows and have greater efficiency in the business.”
Automation is important in healthcare
The growing capabilities of robots are seeing them being adopted across an expanding range of healthcare applications, with the global market estimated to increase by 12.64 percent between 2018 and 20231.
Karolinska University Hospital is continuing to explore the possibilities of deploying robots to handle additional tasks, both in a laboratory environment and in more healthcare-related applications. With the COVID-19 pandemic, robots are playing an increasingly important role in healthcare, both for infection-proof work and to relieve the heavy workloads of healthcare staff.
“Using robots in healthcare will happen a lot more in the future; we have only scratched the surface of the opportunities that come with technology development,” says Annika Thoresson. “We believe that automation will play an important role in the future and we would like to work closely with automation experts such as ABB and the automation industry simply because we can learn so much from each other.”
BIS Research - Global Healthcare Robotics Market - Analysis and Forecast, 2018-2023