Tech, Wellness / Self-Care

Hospital robots are helping nurses with Burnout

The nurse of the future?

words by: Sahar Khraibani
May 12, 2022

Hospital robots are assisting in the fight against nurse burnout. As the pandemic has pushed healthcare personnel to their limits, Moxi and other delivery-focused robot helpers have become ever more important.


How robots are helping

Moxi, a nearly 6-foot-tall robot that ferries medication, supplies, test samples, and personal things along the halls from floor to floor, has been an extra assistant on the nurses’ shifts at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia, since February. Nurses said it’s a nice reprieve after 2 years of battling COVID and accompanying stress.


Moxi is one of a number of specialized delivery robots that have been developed in recent years to help relieve the load on healthcare staff. Nearly half of U.S. nurses said their workplace lacked proper work–life balance even before the outbreak. Burnout has been exacerbated by the emotional toll of witnessing patients die and coworkers infected on such a huge scale, as well as the worry of bringing COVID home to family.


Burnout can also have long-term ramifications for nurses, including cognitive effects and insomnia years beyond the strain of their early careers, according to studies. According to a survey conducted by the National Nurses United union, about 2 out of every 3 nurses in the United States have considered abandoning the profession as a result of the pandemic.


In some areas, the shortage is causing permanent and temporary travel nurses to earn greater rates. Nurses in countries like Finland are seeking higher wages and going on strike. However, it has paved the path for more robots to be used in healthcare settings.


Moxi, which has spent the pandemic rolling down the halls of some of the country’s largest hospitals, transporting goods like a smartphone or a treasured teddy bear to patients in emergency rooms while the COVID protocol kept family members away from bedsides, is at the vanguard of this movement.


Meet Moxi

Moxi was developed by Diligent Robotics, a business co-founded in 2017 by Vivian Chu, a former Google X researcher, and Andrea Thomaz, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who developed Moxi while working there. When Chu advised Thomaz at Georgia Tech’s Socially Intelligent Machines Lab, the two roboticists met.


The first commercial Moxi deployment occurred months after the pandemic began. A total of 15 Moxi robots are now in use in U.S. hospitals, with another 60 set to be deployed later this year.


In recent years, a variety of robots have been developed to do jobs in healthcare, such as cleaning hospital wards and assisting physical therapists. Due to legal and regulatory concerns, robots that touch people, such as Robear, which helped pull elderly people out of bed in Japan, are still mostly experimental. Specialized delivery robots are far more frequent.


Moxi has a robotic arm and can make cooing sounds and display heart eyes on a computerized face to greet strangers. Moxi uses a front-facing camera and a back-facing lidar sensor to map hospital floors and identify people and stuff it should avoid. Nurses can summon Moxi robots using kiosks at nursing stations or send a text message to the robot. Moxi is also used to transport goods that are too large or fragile to fit into a tube system, such as IV pumps, lab results, or unique products like a slice of birthday cake.


In a survey of nurses who worked in a hospital in Cyprus with delivery robots similar to Moxi, nearly half expressed fear that robots pose a threat to their jobs, although robots have a long way to go before they can potentially replace people. Moxi still requires assistance with basic tasks. Moxi may need to ask a human to press an elevator button for a specific floor, for example.


Worse, the cybersecurity dangers that hospital delivery robots pose are poorly understood. Security startup Cynerio demonstrated how hackers can take remote control of Tug robots or expose patients to privacy issues by exploiting a weakness.


In other related reading, here’s how to prevent and manage late-COVID burnout.


Photo via Diligent Robotics