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Is Healthcare the Next Big Opportunity for Service Robots?

Robotics & Warehouse Automation

July 2024

MIHAELA TIMPAU

Consulting Analyst

A graduate in International Business, Strategy and Project Management, Mihaela joined Interact Analysis as Consulting Analyst, supporting the team in custom research. Mihaela contributes to a variety of custom consulting projects, including bespoke market sizing and forecasting, voice-of-customer analysis, due diligence, and other strategic initiatives.

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) have long been working in warehouse environments alongside human workers to carry out menial, physically demanding tasks. But when will healthcare service robots become a common sight in healthcare environments?

Labor shortages, high healthcare costs, and the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic have set the stage for the adoption of healthcare service robots. Moreover, the following global healthcare challenges are driving the development of healthcare service robots capable of supporting healthcare staff and performing repetitive, non-value adding tasks, enabling medical staff to focus on patients’ needs:

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2030 an estimated 1 in 6 people will be aged over 60. The rapidly aging population will lead to heightened demand for healthcare services, exceeding the capacity of current hospitals.
  • The WHO projects a global shortage of healthcare staff of 15 million by 2030, driven by staff burnout and the retirement of existing staff.

Early adopters of healthcare service robots are countries with per capita high healthcare costs, such as the US, Germany, and Nordic countries. These countries are more likely to invest capital in cutting-edge technologies and cost-effective solutions in response to escalating healthcare costs. Major healthcare entities like Stanford Health Care, Cardinal Health’s Dorval, and El Camino Health already leverage service robots to automate nearly 80% of their back-of-the-hospital services, including pharmacy, laundry, and food delivery.

The US currently has the highest per capita healthcare costs in the world. Source: World Population Review

Healthcare service robots that can support healthcare workers and free up their time to focus on the highest-value aspects of their roles include:

Pharmacy Robots: In hospitals or store pharmacies, pharmacy robots can identify and dispense medicine to nurses, patients, or technicians. Deploying pharmacy robots offers benefits such as enabling technicians to focus on value-adding tasks for patients, minimizing the risk of human error, and reducing overall prescription and healthcare costs.

Laboratory Robots, defined as autonomous robots that refer to stationary (cobots) or mobile laboratory robots (composed of a mobile robot and an arm), are designed for automating and optimizing various tasks within medical and healthcare scientific laboratories. Laboratories use fixed or mobile robots to automate manual, repetitive, and high-volume tasks.

Cleaning and Disinfection Robots: Robots can clean and disinfect patient rooms and hospital areas, limiting human contact and minimizing the risk of healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs). Manual disinfection only wipes up to 30% of bacteria, but robots could reduce bacteria count by up to 84%.

Delivery Robots (AMRs and AGVs): Delivery robots are used for tasks such as transporting food, medicines, clean or dirty linens, and other items. These robots reduce in-person contact between healthcare staff and patients, and save time spent on walking. There are other service robots aimed at healthcare, such as “social robots”.

Adoption of service healthcare robots by region:

The US is at the forefront of adopting healthcare robotics, driven by increased investments in automation within the healthcare environment. Almost 80% of healthcare institutions in the US are exploring various levels of automation. The privately-funded healthcare system in the US positions the country as a leader in adopting cutting-edge technology. In contrast, the government-funded European and Asian healthcare markets, which are more price-sensitive, lag behind the US in terms of adopting healthcare service robots. However, governments in Asian countries such as Singapore, South Korea, and Japan foster a culture of innovation and robot social integration by supporting the industry, making them hubs of product testing and development, and positioning the region for market growth.

Barriers to adopting healthcare service robots:

Despite the benefits service robots bring to the healthcare industry, the market is currently in the early stages of product development. Some start-up robotics companies are still in funding rounds, developing prototypes or launching pilot projects in healthcare settings. However, the key barriers to product adoption are:

  1. High initial cost: Service robots have a high initial cost – ranging from £20,000 to £150,000 depending on the robot type – coupled with costly integration processes, such as adapting infrastructure to accommodate robots.
  2. Return on investment (ROI) justification: Robot manufacturers and distributors face challenges justifying ROI for implementing robotic solutions in healthcare environments, particularly in regions where labor shortage is not a challenge and where human labor is still perceived to be a more cost-effective option.
  3. Staff Training: Necessity for specialized training among healthcare staff to operate robots effectively.

As technology becomes more affordable and technological autonomy increases, the healthcare service robot market is expected to enter an expansion, with healthcare entities deploying larger fleets of robots, and robotic companies providing strong ROI. Healthcare service robots represent a trend towards augmenting human capabilities with technology and are set to revolutionize the health sector, making it more accurate, efficient, and patient-centric.

The market for healthcare service robots is expected to be in its growth stage by 2030

For a robotics company, it is crucial to understand the future potential of the healthcare service robots’ market. Investing in market research could position a company for success and enable it to stay ahead of the competition. Our custom research competencies in the global healthcare robots market could provide market intelligence into the current state and forecasts of the market, as well as in-depth insights about regional dynamics, adoption drivers, challenges, and key players – essential information to inform strategies that tap into this fast-evolving market.

To learn more about how Interact Analysis’ Consulting Team could help inform your long-term strategic initiatives relating to healthcare robots, please reach out to Jonathan Pipe.

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