Promising news from Germany: Within a few years, a robot named Casero will be able to care for the elderly. This mainly concerns tasks that require strength, such as moving heavy items. For the more human tasks, we will have to wait a while for the Care-O-Bot 3.
Healthcare is a pretty sensitive topic. Unlike things like Defense, people believe that human traits such as emotions are important characteristics for the workforce.
It is important for people to feel the warmth of a human employee. That they have a caregiver who can make jokes, and that the caregiver himself does not keep a steel plate as a face.
In that respect, humanity in healthcare is indispensable. What is also indispensable in healthcare is sufficient manpower.
However, this labor power cannot be supplied by humans alone. At least, it will not be possible to continue to provide the necessary labor power by people. With the coming aging of the population and the depopulation in many areas of the Netherlands, it will be impossible for care to be provided by people alone.
Within a few decades, the Netherlands will have to deal with, among other things:
- A higher standard of living
- A slower population growth
- An increasing demand for care
- Perhaps less immigration, given the current political preference of many in this area
A combination of these demographic factors means that more people need to be cared for with fewer people. The prospect that one fifth of the potential labor force will have to work in health care within a few decades is particularly alarming.
Shortage of people
Moreover, care is not just one topic. It is a collective name for several subjects. Healthcare has countless professions, and all those professions require specialism. That specialism again requires years of education and study.
An example: before someone graduates as an oral surgeon, that person has had to study for fifteen years. That equates to approximately one third of a person's total number of working years. And that's just one example of a healthcare profession.
If you keep in mind that people hardly ever work in the sectors that the country needs, then it is a realistic assumption that sooner or later the Netherlands will be faced with a serious shortage of labor force in healthcare.
There are two ways to avoid that deficiency.
One way is to still have one fifth of the potential working population work in healthcare. In addition to demanding too much of our workforce as a country, this measure would also meet with resistance from the majority of the population. After all, when taking this measure, people must be obliged to practice a certain profession, and see how to get it done.
The alternative is to initiate a process that in the longer term should make healthcare less dependent on human hands: robotization.
However, this process requires a lot from society:
- First of all, politicians must be prepared to invest in this solution over several cabinet periods.
- Second, citizens must be convinced of the need to make healthcare less dependent on scarce human labor.
- In addition, the necessary technological improvements must be made.
The latter need not be a problem in the 21st century. The other two requirements require citizens and politicians who look to the long term.
Robots in healthcare
Ultimately, this process should lead to the deployment and acceptance of human robots in healthcare.
Of course, humans should not be replaced by robots overnight. Safety is of the utmost importance, especially in healthcare.
However, we must get rid of the idea that care can only be a human task. That may still be the case now, but it does not have to stay that way.