Health systems invest in robots to abate nursing shortage—but privacy concerns are still an issue

The news: Service robot startup Diligent Robotics scored $30 million in a Series B raise. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center was among investors. The startup has raised $50 million to date.

How we got here: Robot assistants are helping health systems contend with worsening nurse and labor shortages.

  • Diligent Robotics’ flagship robot (Moxi) delivers and collects supplies, meds, and lab samples across the hospital, for example.

Last year, Cedars-Sinai introduced Moxi in its neurology, orthopedic, and surgery units.

  • Cedars-Sinai nurses can request Moxi via text through hospital-issued phones. Moxi responds within 5 minutes with its estimated time of arrival.
  • Moxi saved nurses over 300 hours of walking, according to Cedars Sinai’s website.
  • So, it's unsurprising to see Cedars-Sinai take part in the startup’s Series B haul.

The problem: 97% of large US hospitals faced a nursing shortage, even a month before the omicron variant blew in, per McKinsey’s 2021 Hospital Insights Survey.

  • And 92% of healthcare leaders say the nurse labor shortage will intensify in the next 18 months, per a late 2021 Wolters Kuwer survey of 300 US nurse leaders.
  • That means hospital nursing staff will be at higher risk for burnout and need an extra set of hands (like Moxi).

Robot roadblock: Most patients like robot healthcare assistants. But privacy issues could be a barrier to widespread hospital implementation.

93% of patients who interacted with a robot during their hospital visit said they liked the experience, according to a 2021 US survey of 1,000 adult from MIT and Brigham Women’s Hospital.

  • Patients are also open to using robots for other health-related tasks. Most (83%) said their robot-facilitated triage interview was the same quality as with a clinician.

But cybersecurity vulnerabilities with robots could be costly for health systems.

  • Researchers found that autonomous healthcare robots (like Aethon’s) had at least five bugs with the base servers they use to communicate.
  • Hackers could create new logins with high-level access to enter restricted areas—or spy on patients using the robot’s built-in cameras, per TechCrunch.

Cybersecurity vulnerabilities are bad news for health systems. Especially since privacy threats rack up long-term costs for hospitals.

  • A typical data breach can cost health systems up to $9.2 million per incident, according to IBM.