gms | German Medical Science

24. Jahrestagung des Netzwerks Evidenzbasierte Medizin e. V.

Netzwerk Evidenzbasierte Medizin e. V. (EbM-Netzwerk)

22. - 24.03.2023, Potsdam

Ethical challenges associated with the application of social robots in elderly care: thematic analysis

Meeting Abstract

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  • Lea Blunck - Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Department of Health Sciences, Hamburg, Deutschland; University of Southern Denmark, Department of Public Health, Dänemark
  • Sabine Wöhlke - Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Department of Health Sciences, Hamburg, Deutschland
  • Karina Karolina De Santis - Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology – BIPS, Department of Prevention and Evaluation, Deutschland; Leibniz-Science Campus Digital Public Health Bremen, Bremen, Deutschland

Gesundheit und Klima – EbM für die Zukunft. 24. Jahrestagung des Netzwerks Evidenzbasierte Medizin. Potsdam, 22.-24.03.2023. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2023. Doc23ebmV2-01

doi: 10.3205/23ebm016, urn:nbn:de:0183-23ebm0165

Published: March 21, 2023

© 2023 Blunck et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. See license information at



Background/research question: Social robots can fill the gap at times of aging world and high strain on the elderly care system. Social robots could improve well-being, promote independence in daily life and potentially reduce loneliness through social interaction. However, application of social robots poses new ethical challenges. This study aimed to narratively describe the main ethical challenges in the application of social robots in elderly care using a thematic analysis of systematic reviews on this topic.

Methods: Relevant systematic reviews were identified in PubMed, Scopus, and CINAHL through 25 June 2022. Systematic reviews were selected based on the population (elderly), concept (social robots) and context (addressing any health outcomes in care settings or at home) criteria. Data were coded using a standardized data extraction sheet. Data items included bibliographic information, population and social robot type, and ethical challenges. Data were synthesized using a qualitative thematic analysis by grouping the ethical challenges into common main themes.

Results: A total of 15 systematic reviews published between 2012 and 2022 were included and the majority (7/15) originated from Europe. Predominantly elderly with cognitive impairments were included. There was no consensus on the definition of social robots. These were defined as socially assistive robots, companion robots, social robots, or robopets. Ethical challenges were mentioned implicitly or explicitly in 13/15 systematic reviews. The main ethical challenges were grouped into 4 main themes: 1) beneficence and non-maleficence, 2) autonomy, 3) dignity and fairness and 4) technological aspects. Main concerns were raised regarding dehumanized care, intensive costs of social robots, and safety and privacy issues.

Conclusion: The application of social robots provides a novel method of delivering elderly care. This study shows that various ethical challenges are associated with the application of such robots in this population. However, the ethical challenges were often not discussed in depth in the past systematic reviews. Ethical aspects, including advantages but also challenges associated with social robots should be considered in development and application of social robots in elderly care.

Competing interests: The authors report no conflicts of interest.