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Service and Healthcare
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Robots Prowl Back Halls of Hospital
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed Oct 03, 2004
More Service and Healthcare stories
The Ohio State University Medical Center is the first system in the United States to open its back hallways to a fleet of laser-guided robots that move a wide variety of heavy materials throughout several hospitals in its main complex.

“This is the first of a new generation of robotic systems used for materials transportation in the health-care environment,” said Eric Kunz, executive director of corporate support services for the OSU Health System. “The robots capitalize and expand on the health system’s designation as one of the ‘Most Wired’ in the country. We are the first hospital to install such a complete application of wireless communication technology that also supports other patient-care processes.”

Thousands of pounds of meals, medications, bed linens, surgical supplies and trash are moved through OSU Medical Center each day, and the new $18 million automated transport system has taken the movement of these materials to new technological heights. The system was the lowest-cost alternative to replace an antiquated overhead transport system original to the hospital buildings, and includes a seven-year return on investment.

“Forty-six self-guided robotic vehicles make up to 3,000 trips each day throughout the hospital, creating a safer, healthier workplace for employees. Best of all, the system shaves critical minutes from supply deliveries to patient floors, freeing up staff to interact with patients and visitors,” said Rosalind Parkinson, administrative director for materiel systems at the medical center. “It’s like back-stage Disney come alive in a hospital environment.”

The robots use their own dedicated elevators for 11 floors – freeing up public and staff elevators and improving wait times for patients, staff and visitors. Rarely visible to patients and visitors, the robots provide access to patient floors, the operating rooms, environmental services, central sterile storage, dietetics, the pharmacy and the trash dock.

“In addition to innovation in research, education and patient care, OSU Medical Center is a pioneer in developing inventive ways to perform important tasks that take place behind the scenes,” said Peter Geier, interim CEO of the OSU Health System. “This integrated system, developed and used by employee groups whose paths rarely crossed before, is a model for the American hospital industry.”

The medical center’s robotic system initiative was led by Schooley Caldwell Associates of Columbus using a group of consultants that included a system design team from The Schachinger Group of Fairfax, Va., on-site project management from Synergent of Pickerington, Ohio, and Chalfant, Pa.-based FMC Technologies software and robots.

The Ohio State University Medical Center this summer was named for the fifth consecutive year to the list of the nation’s 100 “Most Wired” hospitals and health systems, a designation referring to the inventive use of wireless and Internet technologies to connect with patients, physicians, nurses, payors, health plans and vendors. The list appears in the July issue of Hospitals & Health Networks, the journal of the American Hospital Association.

Please see accompanying fact sheet for additional transport system details.

Ohio State University Medical Center Automated Transport System Quick Facts

- Automated Guided Vehicle System cost $18 million, which includes actual system costs, alterations to building and building systems, some departmental and operation changes, and consultant fees. A seven-year return on investment is expected.

- Forty-six robotic transporters carry materials on custom-designed, stainless-steel carts to more than 50 destinations in the 11-story, 1,000-plus-bed hospital complex. The laser-guided transporters and software are manufactured by FMC Technologies of Chalfant, Pa.

- Loaded transporters are 33 inches wide by 65 inches long and travel at speeds up to 234 feet per minute.

- Safety features: warning lights, turn signals, emergency stop buttons, and rear and front bumper scans that trigger automatic stop if path is obstructed; English-language voice alarm; warning signs in English, Spanish and Somali.

- Eight cart types designed for specific functions: biohazard waste; medical/surgical supplies; flat bed for boxed supplies; trash; soiled tray return; hot food patient trays (closed); linens; sterile surgical supplies/pharmacy (closed and locked).

- Laser-guided transporters “identify” cart type through barcode technology.
Transporter lift capacity: 1,000 pounds.

- Designed for 3,000 deliveries per day throughout ground floor and via nine dedicated small elevators, freeing up an estimated 2,500 trips for patients, staff and visitors on elevators previously used to move materials.

- Standard delivery time: 15 minutes; priority delivery time: 10 minutes.
450 employees trained (including managers and supervisors).

- Four-step ordering process on touch-screen computers: position cart for pickup; select cart pickup location; select cart type; swipe identification badge.

- System serves University Hospital, James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, and Ross Heart Hospital.

Emily Caldwell
Medical Center Communications

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