Robots being designed to assist nurses, not replace them

A grant from the National Science Foundation has led engineering and nursing students at Duke University to create a robotic “nurse” to assist human nurses, according to an article published in the News & Observer. The robots are being tested as “alternatives to human contact to diminish risks for providers,” who are caring for patients with infectious diseases.

“We are not trying to replace nurses,” Margie Molloy, an assistant nursing professor, said in the article, explaining they are trying to create a safer environment for healthcare providers.

The first-generation robot called “Trina” (Tele-Robotic Intelligent Nursing Assistant) can perform tasks, albeit clumsily at present, such as delivering a cup, a bowl, pills and a stethoscope to a patient. Its face is a computer screen on which an actual nurse’s face appears.

In the fall, students conducted a simulation with a fake patient using the remote-controlled robot, which has a price tag of $85,000.

Plans for the next generation of Trina include giving her a “more friendly and human-like appearance” and enabling her to collect and test fluids, the article stated.

“We need to establish a better interface with the human and the robot to make them work together and be more comfortable,” Jianqiao Li, engineering student, said in the article.

A Business Wire article stated that by 2021 robots will be a growing presence in the healthcare system, surpassing 10,000 units annually.

“More than 200 companies are already active in various aspects of the healthcare robotics market,” said principal analyst Wendell Chun, in the article. “These industry players are creating highly specialized devices for a wide range of applications, and the use cases will continue to expand as costs decline and healthcare providers recognize the early successes of robots in supporting high-quality care and a range of ancillary services.”

MIT has been teaching robots to assist nurses with scheduling. A robot can observe humans working on a labor and delivery floor and then formulate an efficient schedule for staff, according to the July 2016 MIT News article.

Nurses’ positive comments about the robot included that it would “allow for a more even dispersion of workload” and that it would be helpful to new nurses who are acclimating to their roles.

“A great potential of this technology is that good solutions can be spread more quickly to many hospitals and workplaces,” Dana Kulic, an associate professor of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo, said in the article. “For example, innovative improvements can be distributed rapidly from research hospitals to regional health centers.”

Another robot project funded by the NSF is developing robots to help nurses lift patients and heavy objects.

“The proposed Adaptive Robotic Nurse Assistants will navigate cluttered hospitals, while equipped with multimodal skin sensors that can anticipate nurse intent, automate mundane low-level tasks, but keep nurses in the decision loop,” according to an award abstract. “Modular and strong hardware will be deployed in reconfigurable platforms specially designed for nurse physical assistance.”

Would you welcome the assistance of a robotic nurse? Share your comments below.

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About the Author:

Sallie Jimenez
Sallie Jimenez is a Content Marketing Manager for, which covers industry news and trends in the nursing profession and health care. Jimenez has more than 25 years of healthcare journalism, content marketing, and editing experience.


  1. Avatar
    Ellen Duncan January 3, 2017 at 6:19 pm - Reply

    As a retired nurse with 35 yrs hospital experience, a robot would have been a great help on the night shift in turning & positioning patients & checking on confused patients. Keep the research continuing.

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    Ronnie January 4, 2017 at 12:49 am - Reply

    Terrific but how will they provide warmth and comfort with the human touch of hands?

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    Charlene Seale January 4, 2017 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Thank you for pursuing this very important work. There are so many hospital tasks that could be performed more safely, accurately and efficiently if automated. Not only nursing, laboratory analysis at the bedside, pharmaceutical distribution, among others could be automated. As a nurse, if I could place a urine or a blood sample in a robot and the robot could perform the analysis and then transmit the analysis to the medical record – how efficient would that be? How much would that improve patient care? What if I could send the robot for clean linens, rather than leaving the patient who is unexpectedly found soiled? What if an IV was ordered, a robot processed that order and went to the patient’s location with the necessary supplies, so the nurse didn’t have to call pharmacy, gather supplies, etc.? He/she could just go the patient and do the nursing function. Oh my what a huge step forward. Please keep up the great work.

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    Karen Johnson January 5, 2017 at 4:36 pm - Reply

    I have been a nurse for over 30 years and my experience tells me people want to “feel that someone cares.” With 25% of reimbursement based on patient satisfaction that personal touch cannot be removed. However, with the projected one million plus nurse vacancies in 2022 I think anything we can do to assist the already overworked nurse would be excellent. Having robots complete the lifting, transferring, and repositioning of patients would have many benefits. Some of the biggest benefits I see are a decrease the number of staff injuries, an increase revenue(less work comp/staffing issues), and better patient outcomes. There are many routine tasks that robots could do which would free the nurse up to spend more time with the patient. I am a Holistic nurse and as such I agree with Ronnie above. The human factor is far too important to allow it to slip away. If someone would find a way for the robot to do the documentation that would be great as this is where much of the nurses time is spent.

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    JF Patterson January 8, 2017 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    We could also send robots to interact with abusive doctors, families and patients. The robot could use a video camera to automatically record the sessions. Visual documentation could be used to identify areas where conflict resolution teaching and policy changes are needed. This would increase safety and possibly decrease the number of nurses who leave direct care.

    Assistance with heavy lifting and decreasing exposure to deadly disease could decrease the higher levels of disability inherent in an underpaid, overworked and underappreciated profession.

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    Judith January 8, 2017 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    Robots are a lovely idea. But in the future the nurse will have to attend more to the robot and less to the patient. This is already happening with computerized charting.
    Person to person interaction is being lost too much.

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    Bob August 1, 2017 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    How about for helping elderly / disabled patients in their own homes rather than having to go to expensive facility or 24/7 home care. drone could stay in home and provide help as needed.

    This could also be a help to law enforcement and military to reduce use of deadly force.

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    Kemi September 25, 2017 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    Nigeria is the worst when it comes to nursing job. They do not appreciate any nurse.what a terrible community. I am sure people will be shocked to hear that the robot can not replace nurses but only assist. People are yet to understand the role of nurses. Nurses will foreuer be in demand

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