Welcoming immigrants and robots to fill the nursing shortage

December 23, 2009

In Nursing crisis looms as baby boomers age, CNN Money repeats a well-known story: there are unlikely to be enough nurses to take care of people as they age. Nursing schools can’t keep up with the demand and trouble awaits. We’ll face a shortage of 260,000 RNs by 2025, we’re told.

I don’t really believe it’s such a big deal.

There are two good solutions to the problem, and they aren’t mutually exclusive:

  1. Increase the recruitment of nurses from abroad
  2. Substitute technology for labor

The first option is already in effect to some extent. But anti-immigrant attitudes and rules limit the number of non-US nurses here. There are also an ethical considerations; when nurses from middle income countries like South Africa and Thailand come to the US, it creates a shortage of nurses in those countries. Some of those shortages are filled by bringing nurses from poor countries to middle income countries. That leaves the poor countries bereft at a time of tough challenges such as HIV and TB.

The second solution essentially means replacing at least some nurses (or some of their functions) with technology, including robots. A lot of things nurses do will be doable by machine, if not this year then certainly by 2025. These robots will take many forms, but one could certainly be as a “personal medical assistant” that handles most mundane functions. It could check vitals, provide encouragement, remind patients to take their medications, and go beyond those tasks to other areas, such as playing games, cleaning the house, making food, and even engaging in pleasant conversation.

This technology trend shouldn’t encounter too much resistance from nurses, who after all should still have plenty of opportunities for employment.

The nursing workforce issues are real, but they provide opportunities for innovation, not cause for panic.

28 thoughts on “Welcoming immigrants and robots to fill the nursing shortage”

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  7. […] could headed for big trouble, with health-care providers stretched to the breaking point. Not so, says the Health Business Blog. The solution lies in first in stepping up efforts to recruit nurses from foreign countries, the […]

  8. Bahahahaha “remind patients to take their medications, and go beyond those tasks to other areas, such as playing games, cleaning the house, making food, and even engaging in pleasant conversation.” You obviously have no idea what a Nurse is or what Nurses do. Amusing. I’d love to see one of your robo nurses function in hospital or even someone’s home. Oh my, you are delusional or perhaps a delusional Star trek fan. See you in 2025.

    1. Consultants already contend with off-shoring of work. I expect in the future artificial intelligence will be a real threat to plenty of people who are well paid today. That includes physicians by the way.

      1. The work of consultants can be more easily off shored, nursing not so much. The next time you are in the hospital, perhaps a robot can comfort to you and reassure your family.

  9. LW, I hope you enjoy the present because it doesn’t sound like you’re ready for the future. Don’t shoot the messenger. (He might be a robot.)

  10. Hahaha… as a nurse of 5 years in the ER, ICU, and pre-hospital environment I literally laughed at this. Then I just felt embarrassed for you at our obvious ignorance for what modern nursing entails. There are a lot of medical areas that can and will be robotized (pathology, pharmacies, etc), but spend some time in various hospital units and perhaps you’ll realize just how out of touch with healthcare this article is.

  11. Mike, As Dr. Emilio Lazardo/Lord John Worfin says in Buckaroo Banzai, “Laugh-a while you can, …”

    The post refers to mundane tasks that nurses do now, and goes beyond nursing functions to other tasks that would be useful to a patient.

    Enjoy!

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