Join our Facebook group

Can robots be nurses?

We think not. Robots cannot assess a patient's status and intervene to save her life. Robots cannot tell physicians when they are doing the wrong operation on the wrong patient. Robots cannot call security to remove a drunk surgeon from the operating room. Please see some of our analyses on "robot nurses" below for an in-depth exploration of the robot nurse phenomenon.


Serve the public trust
Protect the innocent
Uphold public health

March 25, 2009 -- Today Agence France-Presse reported that Japan planned to develop safety standards for the "robot nurses" it hoped would soon assume a significant role in caring for the nation's aging population. The article was headlined "Japan plans robo-nurses in five years: govt." These "service robots" may play an important role in future health care in industrialized nations, probably even by doing some tasks that fall under the general category of "nursing," such as lifting patients. But "robo-nurses" are not college-educated professionals who save lives with their critical thinking skills. Real nurses are. And the media's chronic misuse of the term "nurse" to describe the robots undermines the profession that actually plays a central role in health care. more...


Interaction and intelligence

January 22, 2007 -- Today The Scotsman ran Angus Howarth's "Robot nurses could be on the wards in three years, say scientists." The piece reports on a project by European Union-funded scientists, working at universities in the U.K. and Ireland, to develop machines to "perform basic tasks" at hospitals. These include cleaning up spills, guiding visitors around, and perhaps distributing medicines and taking temperatures. The piece isn't so different from many other recent press items that blithely suggest such robots are "nurses," though this one does pack an impressive array of anti-nurse imagery into a small space (e.g., "nursebots," "'mechanised 'angels'"). Unsurprisingly, the piece consults no real nurse; in fact, it's not clear from the piece if even the "engineers and software experts" working on the "IWARD" project have done that. more...


"I, Robot, will empty your bedpan"

October 29, 2006 -- Today the Victoria Times Colonist ran a Canadian Press piece about how advances in robots may change the practice of nursing. The unsigned piece appears to be based mainly on comments from Michael Villeneuve, a researcher with the Canadian Nursing Association. Villeneuve has been studying how technological changes may affect nursing at a time when both the profession and the patient population are aging. He makes some good points, particularly his comment that nurses must actively shape their practices or others will do it for them. Unfortunately, the piece also contains statements that tend to suggest nursing consists of hand-holding and basic custodial tasks. We wish the report could have conveyed what technology can, and cannot, do to help short-staffed nurses with the many nursing tasks that require advanced skills--like assessments conducted while emptying a bedpan. more...


Debugging the "Electronic Nurse"

September 20, 2006 -- Today we convinced ALR Technologies, Inc. to change the informal name of its new ALRT500 (right) from "Electronic Nurse" to a name that does not suggest that the machine can replace a human nurse. The ALRT500 is a home health management device that aids in treatment compliance and monitoring of those with chronic disease. However, it does not make professional judgments and take skilled clinical actions based on years of college-level science education, as nurses do. After the Center sent an email outlining our concerns (below), we got a call from Wendy Prabhu, President of Mercom Capital Group, ALR's investment relations firm. Ms. Prabhu said that ALR had no intention of offending nurses, and she promised that ALR would change the "Electronic Nurse" name out of respect for them. She noted that the company works with nurses every day and values their work tremendously. She assured us that ALR President Stan Cruitt feels the same way. We commend ALR Technologies and Mercom Capital Group for being remarkably responsive to nurses' concerns about their product, and for taking immediate steps to address the situation. more...


Do Androids Dream of Being Nurses?

September 11, 2006 -- A fairly good piece by Nikki Cobb in today's San Bernadino County Sun highlights the reaction of California nurses to their hospitals' growing reliance on monitoring technology. "Nurses seeking final say: Contracts limit equipment's input" reports that nurses are starting to place provisions in their contracts stating that the nurses' judgment will prevail in any conflict with such technology. The piece relies on quotes from management and union nurses. It makes the point that such technology can be useful, but excessive reliance on it can threaten patient care. The piece might have provided more specifics about the nurse-machine conflicts and the contract provisions that address them. It might also have explored the extent to which technology could constrain nursing practice in the future, and whether it might be used to justify reductions in nurse staffing. more...


$70 machine claims to be "nurse;" background check underway

March 31, 2006 -- Today the web site of Wis10 (the Columbia, SC, NBC affiliate) posted an item by Chantelle Janelle with the headline: "Health Alert: Electronic nurse." The piece describes a $70 machine used by Montefiore Medical Center (Bronx, NY) to help real nurses do home health monitoring by asking patients basic questions about their conditions. The item is an example of the sad tendency of some promoters of electronic health equipment, and the media that covers them, to call such machines "nurses." Of course, these machines do some very basic things that nurses or those assisting them might otherwise do. But they are no more "nurses" than surgical robots are surgeons. We have yet to hear of any robot that handles surgical tools or utters pre-programmed questions being called an "electronic physician." Calling such a machine a "nurse" shows disrespect for nurses' years of college-level training. And it reinforces the damaging view that nurses basically serve as mechanical conduits between patients and physicians. more...


"The robot should be able to do everything a nurse can," Dr. Treat said.

Penelope and Michael Treat photoJanuary 18, 2005 -- Today The New York Times ran Marc Santora's piece "For Surgery, an Automated Helping Hand," which describes the work of surgeon Dr. Michael Treat and his team, who are developing a robot called Penelope that Treat said will some day replace scrub nurses in operating rooms. This robot may well prove to be a helpful surgical tool, and we salute Dr. Treat and his team for their promising work. Unfortunately, the Times piece reflects Treat's own apparent undervaluation of what scrub nurses actually do, giving readers a misimpression of these critical OR professionals and a dangerously flawed vision of OR care. The article appears to reflect no input from the nurses whose work it ostensibly concerns. Since the article ran, both Marc Santora and Michael Treat have, commendably, told the Center that they regret the effect this article will likely have on public understanding of nursing, and they have vowed to publicly repair the damage done. more...


Software operates as journalist!

June 17, 2005 -- Today the New York Daily News ran a piece by Robert Schapiro about a new software program that "operates as a journalist" by taking press releases and turning them into instant news stories...oh, we're sorry, that's absurd, isn't it? No major metropolitan newspaper would suggest that some piece of technology could perform the broad range of high-level, judgment-intensive human tasks involved in professional journalism. No, Mr. Schapiro's piece actually reported that the surgical robot Penelope had "operat[ed] as a surgical nurse" in a routine operation at New York-Presbyterian Hospital the day before. Despite at least making clear that the robot is "not meant to replace" scrub nurses, the piece still suggests that Penelope is pretty much doing their job by handing surgeons instruments. That is wrong. OR nurses perform a wide range of critical surgical functions that require advanced scientific training, including monitoring surgical practice, sterile technique, and the patient's condition, intervening in the case of an emergency, and advocating for the patient generally. Nurses use critical thinking to save lives. more...


Can Penelope the robot solve the nursing shortage?

January 6, 2004 -- Laurie Tarkan's article in today's New York Times, "Nursing Shortage Forces Hospitals to Cope Creatively," describes fairly well the dangerous short-staffing that has driven the nursing shortage, and predictions that the shortage will worsen in coming years. It also manages to paint a remarkably rosy picture of the present and future, exploring the measures some hospitals are apparently taking to improve nurses' working conditions and benefits. Though the piece is serious and generally seems to reflect understanding of the importance of nurses, it also opens and closes with discussions of health care robots like Penelope that seem to suggest nurses are gabby, shiftless subordinates who could be replaced by more efficient machines. more...


Truth About Nursing Blog logo

book cover, Saving lives

A Few Successes —
We Can Change the Media!

Educate the world that nurses save lives!

Save Lives. Be a Nurse. bumper sticker