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Oklahoma hospitals 'hire' robot staff to help zap germs

Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City is testing out a robot that could help the hospital combat Clostridium Difficile, one of the hardest-to-kill bacteria. St. Anthony Hospital has the same robot and hopes to see similar results.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: September 29, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: September 29, 2013

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.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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