PLAINFIELD – Imagine bright flashing lights catching your eye while you’re walking down a hospital hallway.
You look through an interior window and see the source of the unusual strobe. It’s a robot.
It’s not an anthropomorphic robot with arms and legs and a definable head. It’s more like R2-D2 from “Star Wars,” with a little blue mound of a head that has risen up to expose technology that flashes germ-killing rays across the room.
The robot is being used at Edward Hospital Emergency Department and Edward Hospital Outpatient Center, both in Plainfield, and at the hospital’s main campus in Naperville.
The brand name is Xenex, but staff at the Plainfield facilities have nicknamed their robot POW. The three used at the Naperville center are called Snap, Crackle and Pop.
“When it runs,” Edward Hospital infection control manager Mary Anderson said, “it flashes the light around the room. It’s eye-catching. People notice it. ... Our clinical staff just loves it.”
The robots are a recent addition to the hospital’s germ-fighting arsenal. Housekeeping continues to clean as normal – getting rid of trash and other visible dirt and liquids, then disinfecting surfaces with hospital-grade disinfectants registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. Linens are taken out of the room to disinfect.
Then, housekeeping brings in the robot for additional, state-of-the-art disinfection.
And that’s important, Anderson said, with today’s environment of superbugs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of every 25 U.S. hospital inpatients will contract a hospital-acquired infection; and of those, one in nine will die. HAIs are one of the leading causes of death in the country, and superbugs are one of the reasons.
The most common HAIs in acute care hospitals as of 2011, the CDC reported, result in pneumonia, gastrointestinal illness, urinary tract infections, primary bloodstream infections and surgical site infections, among other conditions.
Bacteria gleaned to survive the gamut of antibiotics common in health care environments are the scourge of health care providers today and include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci.
The Xenex robot kills them all.
It also kills other bacteria, viruses, mold, fungi and spores on surfaces and in the air, including the microorganisms that cause Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
The robot works by flashing high-intensity, full-spectrum germicidal ultraviolet light, according to the Xenex website. It kills microorganisms in four ways – by pulling water molecules into DNA, thus preventing transcription; by photo-splitting the strands of DNA apart; by fusing DNA bases together improperly; and by photo cross-linking to cause cell wall damage.
Anderson, who has a microbiology background, said the robot works on RNA in similar fashions, for the microorganisms that do not have DNA.
“I think they’re terrific,” Anderson said of the robots. “They’ve been very well-received by our housekeeping staff and our clinical staff. ... It’s an added measure of safety – a reassurance to our patients and staff that Edward Hospital is committed to providing a safe environment for everyone.”
Anderson said ultraviolet disinfection technology has been used in other industries for a while now, and it’s something hospital staff have been keeping their eyes on, waiting for a system they considered usable and practical in a clinical setting.
The robot at the hospital’s Plainfield cancer center and procedural areas is used at night, when the large rooms are empty. Patient rooms, including those in the emergency department, can be disinfected during the day, with the doors closed. The UV light can harm the eyes unless viewed through glass.
The Xenex robot sits in one place to complete each 10- or 15-minute cycle. Staff may put it in two locations in one room for maximum disinfection.
Anderson said the hospital does not have statistics yet on whether incidences of infections have been lowered by the devices, as the robots have been in use only about a year. But the Xenex website reported that other institutions studied have greatly reduced infection rates.
The devices are not cheap, and the personnel costs are a bit more to put them into use, but Anderson said it’s worth it.
“Anything we can do to prevent infections is worth the cost and the extra time,” she said.
ON THE WEB
For more information, visit www.xenex.com