Preparing for Robotics in the Hospital

Posted on December 23, 2011


In a blog post earlier this year for Healthcare Building Ideas, I looked at how automation appears to be the last great hope for efficiency innovation in construction, that is, in the field where the work is being done on each project.

And not long ago the da Vinci robot was taking some surgery departments by storm. For certain surgeries it allows better control, precision, and potentially speed with less post-surgery side effects for patients. This is automation at work.

Soon automated parking facilities, venues for the mechanical or robotic storage of autos, will be economically feasible in more places than just large cities. This made me believe that somewhere in the Hospital of the Future there are other areas where robotics (automation) could be used as well to increase quality and decrease costs.

Think of the most common difficult, dirtiest, sometimes dangerous jobs—the jobs for which any employer has a tough time finding and keeping people.  Did I mention low pay?  Think of the kinds of jobs politicians say Americans simply won’t do anymore (which usually leads to an immigration tangent).  Hotel housekeeping. Dishwashing. Laundry service. Waste disposal. How many hospitals have work akin to this on their campus?

Robotics has the potential to automate some high-risk jobs at the hospital. As a result, design for these areas will need a complete re-thinking and structural overhaul, which could provide some serious opportunities savings for administrators.  Consider the healthcare possibilities for robotics in:

  • Linen / Laundry
  • Soiled Instrument Handling
  • Pharmaceutical Stocking & Distribution
  • Red Bag and Waste Stream Management
  • Patient Transport
  • Parking

At this point in time, robotics are a customized solution to a problem. Yet, if a mechanical system can organize and move parked cars, it can surely handle stocking, counting, and distributing pills. Make no mistake, IT and intelligent machines will have an increasingly greater presence in the hospital. It may be worth a corporate retreat to see if speeding up the future at your hospital makes sense.