GlobalData: Deploying robots in coronavirus fight may not be necessary

The medical technology industry is stepping up to help fight the spread of coronavirus in some cases deploying robot technology.

Doctors in the US have been using a telehealth machine to treat the first person in the country admitted to hospital with 2019-nCoV. The man is currently being held in a specially designed two-bed isolated area at Providence Regional Medical Center in Washington.

A hotel in Hangzhou is being used to isolate more than 300 people suspected to have the virus, and has been using a robot to deliver food to their bedrooms.

Likewise in Guangzhou City, at the Guangdong Provincial People’s Hospital, autonomous delivery robots are being used to transport drugs around the hospital.

Xenex robots, which are manufactured in San Antonio, use pulsed xenon ultraviolet-C (UVC) light to wipe out pathogens. The company says its devices are currently being used to clean hospital rooms where there have been suspected cases of the new coronavirus. The robot can clean a room in as little as five minutes.

LA-based Dimer UVC Innovations, which has developed a germ-killing robot designed to sanitize aeroplanes, has offered its services to three US airports to address the coronavirus outbreak.

GlobalData medical technology writer Chloe Kent says:

Noble though these efforts are, there’s a chance they might not all be entirely necessary. Many of the people quarantined, such as those in the Hangzhou hotel, aren’t displaying symptoms of the disease.

The jury’s still out on whether 2019-nCoV can spread before a patient is symptomatic. Previous epidemic coronaviruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) could not be spread by a carrier of the disease before they began to feel unwell. However, a woman from Shanghai on a business trip to Germany is believed to have passed the disease onto her European colleagues, despite not becoming ill until she was on her flight home.

Even if the coronavirus can be spread by people with no symptoms, who may be infected for two to 14 days before they start to feel sick, people who are sneezing and coughing are far more likely to spread the disease. Quarantining people for weeks on end who may not be ill, and going so far as to have a robot deliver their meals, may be a recipe for social tension.

Additionally, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that health workers interacting with 2019-nCoV patients should be able to protect themselves with a gown, gloves, eye protection and an N95 face mask. Isolating patients within hospitals makes perfect sense, but the risk of a clinician contracting coronavirus is minimal and casts Guangdong Provincial People’s Hospital’s drug delivery robots in a slightly different light. Technology can be lifesaving, but its overuse can breed fear and misunderstanding among patients and clinicians alike.

Robots are flashy and advanced, and if they can help contribute to stopping a global outbreak of a serious disease then their contributions should be welcomed. But doubling down on practices like handwashing, and reinforcing the importance of clear international communication, will be more important to stopping 2019-nCoV’s spread than all the UVC light in the world.”

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