M2M Sterilizes Surgical Tools

2/4/2013

As M2M and connected devices become more prevalent, intelligent robots could soon be your colleague, helping with arduous tasks. This certainly seems to be the case in industries such as healthcare and manufacturing, to name just a few. One company is developing a machine that is able to locate, sort, and sterilize medical equipment with very little oversight.

In hospitals, tools need to be inspected, washed, and counted multiple times. Sterilizing equipment is a very big part of what goes on in a hospital. In fact, the surgical operation and recovery setting is considered one of the most intensive sections of a hospital, accounting for roughly 30-50% of the budget.

What’s more, this process is currently very manual, inefficient, and frequently leads to delays, and unfortunately if equipment can’t be reprocessed in time, procedures are put off.


Enter M2M. Machines that can automate the surgical tool sterilization process could soon be in a hospital near you. GE Global Research, www.ge.com/research, and the U.S. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), www.va.gov, recently unveiled an automated system that uses robotics and RFID (radio-frequency identification) to sterilize surgical tools.

With the prototype, clamps and scalpels will have a unique ID so they can be identified by various robotic components. The robot can then perform various tasks such as kitting tools, movement through sterilization process, and transport to and from the operating theater to ensure tools are in the correct location.

GE Global Research suggests this $2.5 million prototype project will span two years. At that time, the system could be ready to be tested in an undisclosed VA hospital. One challenge associated with the project is training the robot to handle and test specific implements. Lynn DeRose, principal investigator and auto-ID technology expert in the Distributed Intelligent Systems Lab, GE Global Research, says maneuvering something as simple as a pair of scissors requires lengthy code instructions.

The innovation taking place inside GE Global Research isn’t entirely new. These types of autonomous robots have already been used to automate manufacturing processes in industrial settings for years. Even in a healthcare setting, robots aren’t entirely foreign. Years ago, Geisinger Health System’s, www.geisinger.org, pharmacy began using TUG robots from Aethon, www.aethon.com, which include RFID and biometrics, to deliver, track, and retrieve medications, supplies, meals, and equipment throughout the hospital.

But extending these capabilities even further to the surgical tool sterilization process could easily save billions in hospitals, while freeing hospital staff to focus on what’s most important—patient care.

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