Care robots already assist the elderly in some nursing homes around the globe and could be in widespread use in hospitals and private homes sooner than we think. These robots promise great hope for patients: robots can provide increased independence, assistance with daily living, comfort and distraction during procedures, education, and companionship during vulnerable and lonely times in patients’ lives. Despite these promising features, there are a number of concerns; care robots, designed with the aim of winning patient trust and affection, have unprecedented access to personal lives as well as recording and sensory capabilities beyond any human. They pose significant risk to privacy, confidentiality, and autonomy, three patient interests integral to preserving trust in the medical system. Regulation of care robots will be necessary to safeguard these patient interests. This Article proposes a regulatory framework for care robots addressing four key stakeholders involved in care robot governance: the providers and institutions that deploy care robots, the manufacturers of such robots, and government agencies. This Article proposes some practical, concrete steps that each stakeholder can take now to begin to prepare for a future with care robots.
Valarie K. Blake is Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law.