Germ Zapping Robot

New UV-C cleaning robots disinfect in less than 10 minutes

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In the name of patient safety, Northwest Community Hospital (NCH) in suburban Chicago invested $125,000 in two robots to battle multi-drug resistant organisms. The new Xenex UV light robots at NCH use pulsed xenon ultraviolet (UV-C) light that is 25,000 times more powerful than sunlight to quickly destroy harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and even bacterial spores.

NCH is the first hospital in the region to implement the Xenex system, which has been credited for helping 200 other healthcare facilities in the U.S. decrease their MRSA and Clostridium difficile infection rates by more than 50 percent, according to studies. University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center pioneered use of this robotic system and neighboring Loyola University Health System, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, Freeport Health Network and Decateur Memorial Hospital have also purchased the robot for infection prevention.

Faster Disinfection
NCH uses the robot 24/7 in patient rooms that have been flagged for additional cleaning after a patient with MRSA or C. diff has been discharged. It will complement, rather than replace, other infection prevention practices. In the words of Bridgette Bucholz, MPH, manager of infection prevention, the robot is the "cherry on top" of the bleach cleaning.

The robots use UV light to reach every surface in a hospital room to disinfect and eliminate hard-to-kill bugs in hard-to-clean places. According to Rachel Sparks, Xenex's technical director, the robots are 20 times better than human cleaning alone.

Company literature said the produced reduced C. diff rates by 98%, while traditional bleach cleaning alone reduces infection by 70%.

When a special security feature activates, no one may enter the robot. As the robot begins operation, a pulsed xenon lamp emits germicidal ultraviolet light. Within a 5-10 minute cleaning cycle per room, this broad-spectrum light destroys viruses, bacteria and bacterial spores. The robotic device produces ultraviolet C (UV-C), which penetrates the cell walls of bacterial viruses, mold, fungus and spores, causing the pathogens' DNA to fuse instantly, rendering them unable to reproduce or mutate. Without contact of chemicals, the Xenex robot's pulsed venon light kills harmful microorganisms. The robot doesn't move around a hospital room on its own but when placed in position and turned on a bulb extends from the neck, flashes and spins.

NCH currently uses the robots to treat bed rails, bathrooms and every surface a patient touches. High-risk rooms for C. diff and MRSA and the OR are primary targets. In off hours, the robots are employed in public bathrooms, locker rooms and procedure rooms to augment cleaning practice. The robots clean 40 patient rooms per day and the facility set a new goal aiming to disinfect the every ICU room every 30 days.

Part of what sold NCH on the robots was a VA hospital study on the technology's ability to destroy HAI pathogens such as C. diff, MRSA, VRE and acinetobacter. The study estimated elimination of MRSA and other superbugs for less than $3 per treatment cycle. By contrast, a single MRSA infection costs approximately $23,000, according to the VA study.

Also appealing was the environmental aspect of the robots. While the UV light has been used for decades, the UV-C light is decidedly "greener" as it contains no mercury or hydrogen peroxide.

"What really makes this such a big deal is that it can disinfect in 5-10 minutes. In the past, it has taken hours," said Sparks.

Improving Outcomes
The purchase of this robot was the final step in NCH's performance improvement initiative that included a change in the hospital's environmental service provider and increased communication regarding environmental services.  Administration hopes the robots will reduce hospital-acquired infections by 50% throughout its 5-year lifespan. The combination of the robots with the performance improvement initiative is already lessening the rate of C. diff, Bucholz said, although official 2013 numbers have not been released.

According to the public Medicare reporting sire, NCH's rate of hospital-acquired infection met national benchmarks in the four categories tracked and are approaching the rate of statistical significance. However, the rate of MRSA and C. diff infections were slightly higher than the Illinois average.

"I see this as a positive. C diff is a problem in med/surg and this can greatly impact infection as well as length of stay," said Connie Selsky, RN, director, cardiac and post-surgical units.

Bucholz acknowledged a learning curve as the staff had to adjust to increased turnaround time for room cleaning.

"The extra time the robot spends in the room cleaning is a small price to pay for added security offered to the next patient," she said. "We really worked with the staff to give them talking points to explain to patients there is no lack of elbow grease, but the robot is a disinfectant."

Robin Hocevar is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact rhocevar@advanceweb.com.


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