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Workfl ow Management

on demand. The latest models – such as those being used at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland Medical Center – also have tracking capabilities, which broaden the value proposition beyond just labor savings to aid in regulatory compliance, error reduction and chain-of- custody concerns.

• Robots support food service by delivering meals to patient fl oors and returning dirty trays back to the kitchen. At Central DuPage Hospital in the Chicago suburb of Winfi eld, for example, robots are support- ing the food service department by providing consis- tent and dependable delivery of the hospital’s room service patient meals. This allows dietary hostesses to spend an increased amount of time at the patient bedside, resulting in dietary patient satisfaction scores that are among the best in class.

• Robots support environmental services by retrieving soiled linens, regulating waste and trash, ensuring a sanitary environment and improving infection control. Last year Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center (LAMC) installed a fl eet of state-of- the-art robots to transport linens and remove trash throughout the facility. At LAMC robots deliver clean sheets and gowns to patient fl oors, remove and transport soiled linens and transport trash for disposal. As in other facilities, these robots are viewed as a sensible approach to providing basic supply and transportation needs, performing a function that may be invisible to patients but critical to hospital operations.

In all instances, robots help hospitals streamline internal supply chain operations so that nurses and clinical staff don’t get mired down in searching for missing supplies or making the deliveries themselves, and instead can focus more on providing the important human component of patient care for which they were trained. At El Camino Hospital in the Silicon Valley, for example, 19 robots are helping the hospital run more effi ciently and cutting costs by $650,000 a year. Mov- ing unassisted around the hospital without the need for any special infrastructure, these robots carry safely through the hospital medical supplies and patient meals, laboratory specimens and prescription drugs, linens and equipment, as well as trash and waste.

Advocating for robots in the hospital CIOs need not be concerned with what new head- aches and challenges the introduction of robots to their hospital may bring. The best robots in the industry are self-suffi cient, easy to install and straightforward to operate. Using a three-dimensional map preloaded into the robot, a set of laser rangefi nders, and sophisticated odometry algorithms, robots can self-localize within the building in reference to the map. No external references

12 March 2011

like magnetic strips or beacons need to be installed nor do they burden the hospital’s wireless network for navigation. Obstacle avoidance – of walls, people and other robots – is achieved with ultrasonic and infrared sensors in addition to laser rangefi nders. Hearing the robots announce what they are about to do – such as “crossing hallway” and “turning around” – alerts those nearby. People often marvel at their independence as they watch them call for an elevator or say “thank you” after completing a delivery.

By seriously considering and advocating for the intro- duction of automated delivery robots into their facility, CIOs can play a critical role in helping to position their hospital as one of the nation’s most technologically ad- vanced. Here’s how to get started in that effort: 1. Carefully assess where robots can have the greatest impact in your hospital. Meet with department heads in pharmacy, dietary, lab and materials management to discuss the needs and challenges they face – needs that could be intelligently addressed through the addition of robots to supplement their workforce.

2. Determine how the impact of robots on your hospital operations will be measured. Surely there are savings in FTEs as, on average, one robot can provide the productivity of 2.8 employees yet costs less than a single FTE. But there are other measurements as well. In the pharmacy and lab, for example, robots can speed delivery, potentially leading to reduced lengths of stay. Robots have also proven to increase employee satisfaction, especially among nurses who fi nd themselves able to spend more time on direct patient care.

3. Look for robotic solutions that can be introduced with minimal disruption or extra work from a tech- nical, infrastructure or resource standpoint. The robots making the greatest impact in the industry today require no wires, lines, tracks, rails, landmarks or infrastructure for navigation. They do not need to interface to the HIS and utilize less than 100 Kbps of network bandwidth, yet they support multiple communication options, including pagers and VOIP phones. They are equipped with automatic hands-off recharging, have a simple two-button operation and include sensors for obstacle detection and naviga- tion, including ultrasonic sonar, infrared and laser rangefi nders. The best systems even offer complete help-desk support, hardware and software, remotely through a secure VPN connection.

Healthcare’s future is continuing to evolve and tech- nology on all levels is leading the way. As hospital CIOs become increasingly challenged to help their institution thrive in an era of shrinking reimbursements and limited resources, automated robots are increasing effi ciency, re- ducing expenses and enhancing patient care. And that’s a winning combination that can’t be ignored.


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