Bryan Carter doesn't seem to mind his new co-worker.
Carter talks to Ross sometimes, and the two seem to work well together.
Of course, Ross is a robot, so he's more focused on his job than the latest workplace gossip.
Ross's job is to shoot out high-powered ultraviolet light to kill bacteria that his human counterparts might have missed while cleaning hospital rooms.
Carter, an environmental technician at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City, said patients, nurses and visitors have been excited to learn about the machine he wheels throughout the hospital.
“They say, ‘Wow, that's a robot,' and you go into trying to explain what we're trying to do,” he said.
Mercy Hospital is in the midst of a trial period with Ross to determine whether the robot can help them decrease the number of health care-associated infections patients acquire.
St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City was the first in Oklahoma to have such a robot, and Mercy is evaluating whether it will be the second. Officials at St. Anthony said it's too soon to say whether they've seen an impact on health care-associated infections.
Health care-associated infections are infections that patients acquire during the course of receiving health care treatment for other conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These infections related to medical care can be devastating and even deadly.
An estimated one out of every 20 hospitalized patients will contract a health care-associated infection, according to the CDC.
The Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare, placed further emphasis on preventing these types of infections. To receive their full payment update from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, hospitals are required to report certain types of infections to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database. The information is publicly available on the CMS Hospital Compare website.
Xenex Disinfection Services is the maker of disinfection systems like Ross. So far, about 200 hospitals in the U.S. have Xenex cleaning systems.
Rachael Sparks, technical director at Xenex, said the company's main goal is to rid hospitals of Clostridium Difficile, also known as c-diff.
C-diff is a bacterium that causes diarrhea and more serious intestinal conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health. C-diff spores can live outside the human body for a long time and may be found on things in hospitals like bed linens, bed rails, bathroom fixtures and medical equipment.
Xenex has examples on its website of studies that show reductions in c-diff in hospitals. For example, a study at MD Anderson Cancer Center showed a 30 percent reduction in c-diff throughout the facility after it used the Xenex system.
Sparks said the Xenex system costs $125,000 over a three-year period. That's less than what hospitals spend on the infections that the Xenex machines are fighting off, she said.
“It's a really matter of looking at the amount you spend on infections and the amount you'll spend in the coming years,” she said. “And you have to compare that to saving three to five lives in a year. It's hard thing to put a price on that.”
The Xenex robots are about three feet tall and have a cylinder in the middle that rises when they're in use. The cylinder looks similar to a bug zapper that might sit on someone's back porch to kill pests.
During a five-minute cycle, the machine will send out pulses of high-powered UV light, or UV-C.
Sparks said UV-C is a type of UV ray that's filtered out by the ozone around the earth. UV-C typically bounces off earth, and because of this, bacteria aren't resistant to UV-C and don't have any mechanisms to deal with it, she said.
After the Xenex machine runs, the bacteria absorb the light, which causes errors in their DNA, The single-celled organism can't live past five minutes of absorbing the light from the machine, she said.
“As soon as you've killed c-diff, you've really killed everything else in the room that is a single-celled organism,” Sparks said.
The Xenex machines do not replace staff members at hospitals. Before a Xenex machine can run, a hospital staff member must clean the room. For example, if a patient spills Sprite on the floor, the Xenex machine will not be able to kill the bacteria living beneath that sticky residue.
Dr. Mark Mellow, medical director at Integris Digestive Health Center, said Integris does not have plans to get a Xenex robot at this time.
Mellow helped lead a charge against c-diff at Integris. He and his team put more focus on simple and inexpensive solutions, such as using soap and water to clean hands, rather than antibacterial disinfectant. They also emphasized that doctors should be responsible in how they prescribe antibiotics.
Most cases of c-diff infection occur in patients taking antibiotics, according to the CDC.
Mellow said he was concerned that scientific research hadn't yet shown that devices like the Xenex system were effective in preventing actual c-diff infections. He said a study in the United Kingdom questioned whether the devices were a cost-effective means of fighting health care-associated infections.
“Their bottom line really on all these devices was that since there is still a requirement of significant pre-cleaning before use of these devices and there's limited evidence that they actually prevent c-diff infection spread that, to quote them, they say ‘extensive field trials are necessary to determine their cost effectiveness in a health care setting,'” Mellow said.