Dear Nurse Marge,
I’ve just read a New York Times article about robots replacing classroom teachers — apparently the robot teachers do just as well as the human kind, in some respects. Now I’m worried: do you think we’ll be replaced by robot nurses?
Not Ready to Be Replaced
Dear Not Ready,
I want you to do something very difficult now, and think like a hospital administrator. Yes, I’ll wait while you have the lobotomy.
You all set? Now let’s think through the value of robot nurses. Certainly, they may be able to do some of the tasks ordinarily performed by nurses: monitoring vitals, with nifty robot alarms that are programmed to sound when things are too far out of whack; distributing meds, robo-dialing attendings until they at long last give up the battle and pick up the phone.
Computerized charting? No problem: and there’s no need to give report. Robot nurses never need a break! They can simply retain all of the relevant patient information until discharge. Talk about continuity of care!
Robot nurses might have a real advantage with combative, abusive patients. It doesn’t matter if they get punched, kicked, or spit on: the patient is the only one who is going to feel it!
But (and this is the part where you need to think like an administrator!) robot nurses cost money. Lots of money. More than it would cost to hire an experienced RN, with superlative skills, great knowledge, and an uncontrollable urge to work every and all shifts possible. The savings inherent in hiring two or even three flesh and blood nurses to do the work of one robot nurse — well, it makes a nice little cushion in the Administration Holiday Party Fund, if you follow me.
And those abusive patients? They’re likely to sue if they bruise their knuckles pounding on Robo Nurse. You can’t expect the administration to allow that kind of risk exposure!
Finally, robot nurses would require a certain amount of supplies and parameters to work properly. A human nurse has long learned to make do — no gowns? Trade the floor below two boxes of small gloves and four pillows to restock. A robot nurse simply isn’t capable of that kind of initiative. Administrators would be forced into the completely ridiculous position of ensuring that every facility is adequately stocked with supplies, medication, and staff at all times.
Now tell me, do you really think they’re going to let that happen?
Don’t fear our robot overlords just yet. Remember: at any given time, only 1/3 of the vending machines in any hospital actually work — and if you want to know which ones, you don’t ask the computer system. You ask a nurse.