Can you imagine a robot reminding your grandmother to take a pill or to helping her to move? In the Helsinki-Uusima region, several proposals are being developed to introduce robots into the healthcare system to face a problem that is still growing: an ageing population. “When we think about our future, we know that people in western countries are rapidly ageing and it indicates the growth of demand for health care and welfare services. We have to be able to create new service innovations to face our future challenges. Robots will renew the future of health care and welfare services”, explains Katariina Raij -former director of Laurea University and writer of “Caring TV® as a forerunner in developing eHealth and eWelfare services”.
“For me, the introduction of robotics is the only way that the world has to keep sustainable, because of the ageing population” explains Nicholas Andersson, executive director of Airo Island, an active innovation hub settled in Helsinki promoting robotics, artificial intelligence and automation. According to Statistics of Finland the number of old people will grow considerably in the next decades between women and men older than 65 years.
What is proposed?
Helsinki is the home of several projects that link robotics and the elderly in order to improve the life quality of old people. The ROSE project is a study that focuses on the evolution of services on the level of the individuals, institutions and the society considering ethical points, needs and the future of the system. “According to this study, 80% of the people that were interviewed said that they are positive about using robotics in health and they want to feel more independent” explains Cristina Andersson – coordinator and consultant of the Airo Project. “The older people are alone most of the time and that´s one of the most important topics in the project” adds Cristina.
The Airo Project has been organizing several workshops in order to give this topic the importance that it has, talk about it involving professionals from different areas and then, improve the changes that are needed in order to fit the robots into the healthcare system. “Different healthcare professionals, healthcare centers, municipalities, educational institutions such as Universities, professional unions and companies are taking part in the project” Cristina Andersson reports “the people that have already had a contact with any kind of robots are more willing to use them again or even to use a more advanced technology, so if we get the people to understand better the development of the area it will be better supported”, adds Ms Andersson.
TV Caring, a project developed at Laurea University of Applied Sciences, was a research led by Katariina Raij. The research also included a development program that aimed at the creation of eHealth services with and for elderly people. “In our programme we selected a TV to be used because most people have it in their homes, is familiar enough for acting with it. The introduction of the eHealth was only as they had invited some guests to their homes” explains Katariina about the project, “elderly people seemed to be curious and interested in having a main role in developing services for themselves”, she adds.
The independent elderly, isolated with the technology?
With the rising numbers of projects in Helsinki-Uusima region is the reflection of a process that is happening and will be happening in the rest of Europe and also worldwide. Despite the strong push that is being done in the Finnish region, the critics with the introduction of robotics in elderly life have also raised their voices.
In an article from The Guardian by Michele Hanson the headline said “Robot carers for elderly people are ‘another way of dying even more miserably’”. As aforementioned, most of the old people in the Helsinki-Uusima Region live on their own, so the introduction of robots in their lives would be a way of isolating them?
“The risk of isolation is something that is being highly discussed. I think that the isolation is much more complicated issue. I don´t think that the solution against the isolation is the introduction of a nurse in the life of the elderly” Nicholas Andersson explains.
“In case of the Caring TV project, as the elderly described, they had a feeling that they had invited a guest to their homes with the TV. And in this way the sense of loneliness decreases” explains Katariina Reij.
“Isolation is a risk that we have to take care about. Elderly connecting only with robots is not a solution” explains Jukka Lähesmaa, senior specialist of Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
What is the future of the workers in the healthcare system?
As we mentioned before, “the elderly population is growing and in the future the professionals trained in this area won´t be enough to fulfill the needs” explains Cristina Andersson. “On Airo Island we also had the participation of people from professional unions, and they aren´t critical about the introduction of the robots in the healthcare system” Cristina adds.
According to the leaders of the three projects that we have mentioned, the aim of the introduction of the robots is not to substitute jobs, but to help the employees to focus more on their job and pay less attention to activities that could be developed by the robots.
“The jobs change and the content of it. But for example, for the healthcare would be better if the employers aren´t forced to repeat tasks, so they would have time to communicate more with the patient or the elderly“, Jukka adds.
“I think that by the moment, the robotics haven´t been seen as a threat because we haven´t seen a lack of jobs in the healthcare system yet. But if there would be a massive unemployment situation it would change. Robots are obviously destroying jobs, but nobody can change the situation, the only thing that we can do is to influence the creation of quality jobs in the robotics area“, Juha Antila, Head of Unit Development of Working life in SAK -workers union.