Imagine an intelligent system managing the surgical tool sterilization process in a hospital—ensuring safe delivery of care, enabling new levels of hospital efficiency and delivering, with surgical accuracy, all of the medical devices doctors need to perform life-saving procedures. At GE Global Research, the technology development arm for the General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), scientists envision such a future and will soon begin a groundbreaking project designed to leverage the power of the Industrial Internet to transform the way hospitals manage and track their thousands of surgical tools.
Working with GE Healthcare and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), Global Research scientists will develop a prototype system capable of locating, sorting, delivering and sterilizing surgical tools with little oversight. A mash-up of technology, including robotic systems, RFID and computer vision will form the backbone of the automated system. Tools such as clamps and scalpels will be provided a unique ID so that they are readily identifiable by various robotic components. The prototype system will perform various tasks, including kitting of surgical tools, movement throughout the sterilization process and transport to and from the operating theater ensuring the correct tools are in the right place, at the right time and in sterile and working order. This video further outlines the project and shows a few of the robots GE is considering using.
“The technologies we’re investigating have been used to automate manufacturing processes in industrial settings for years, and we believe they, in combination with a new level of intelligence, can have a substantial impact in hospitals,” said Lynn DeRose, principal investigator and autoID technology expert in the Distributed Intelligent Systems Lab at GE Global Research. “At GE, we’re uniquely positioned to construct a smart solution that can make operating rooms run more efficiently, save millions of dollars in healthcare costs and lead to better patient outcomes.”
In most hospitals today, tools are inspected, washed and counted multiple times by hand. This process is inefficient, fraught with errors and could lead to critical delays and, more importantly, adverse patient events. According to the Institute of Medicine, between 44,000 and 98,000 patients die every year due to preventable medical errors accounting for a $12–$25 billion cost to the U.S healthcare system. Automating the device recognition, delivery and accounting processes is expected to significantly reduce hospital costs.
Expected benefits include:
- Increased patient safety, hospital quality and cost performance through reduction in surgical infections
- Increased efficiency in OR scheduling due to increased kit accuracy and reduction in instrument count time
- Increased hospital throughput from reduction of set-up and room turnaround time
Having an intelligent automated solution handle the labor-intensive asset management tasks has the added benefit of freeing up hospital personnel, who are in many cases already stretched thin. Staff could be retrained and redeployed to perform more patient-focused jobs.
“According to experts in the field, the surgical operation and recovery setting is considered the fastest growing and most resource intensive section of the hospital, accounting for approximately 30%–50% of a hospital’s budget,” said DeRose. “Simply put, the operating theater is the single largest contributor to a facility’s bottom line. Any gains in efficiency that lead to more revenue being generated will be felt in a big way.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of this project will be to train the robots to handle and test specific implements. “Even maneuvering something as simple as a pair of scissors requires lengthy coded instructions for a robot,” DeRose went on to say.
Technologies developed through this venture could support existing healthcare products including GE’s Centricity Perioperative suite and AgileTrac™. All technologies will be built on a common framework resulting in a system that is expected to offer greater flexibility and easier installation and configuration for different hospital settings. Hospital personnel then will be able to customize computerized dashboards so that information relevant to their job is available at their fingertips.
The $2.5 million project will span 2 years. At the conclusion, automated systems will be tested at a yet-to-be determined VA hospital.
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