Research scientists working with GE Healthcare and the Dept. of the Veteran’s Affairs are building prototype systems that will be able to locate, sort, sterilize and deliver surgical tools with minimal oversight.
The teams are looking at technologies already used in industrial settings, modifying them to perform tasks such as sterilization of surgical instruments, assembly of medical kits as needed and delivery to the appropriate operating room at designated times.
The teams are hoping that the automated systems will increase patient safety and hospital efficiency, cutting down on hospital infections and reducing the need for staff to manage surgical instruments. Many hospitals rely on staff to inspect, wash and count tools, leaving room for potential errors that can lead to adverse patients events, according to GE.
"According to experts in the field, the surgical operation and recovery setting is considered the fastest growing and most resource intensive section of the hospital, accounting for approximately 30 – 50% of a hospital’s budget," principal investigator Lynn DeRose said in prepared remarks. "Simply put, the operating theater is the single largest contributor to a facility’s bottom line. Any gains in efficiency that lead to more revenue being generated will be felt in a big way."
The biggest challenge will be in "training" the robots to handle specific instruments, added DeRose, who is also an auto-ID technology expert at GE Global Research’s Distributed Intelligent Systems Lab.
GE poured $2.5 million into a 2 year project to explore the technology, which will be tested at a VA hospital.