Struggling to reduce infection rates, hospitals are bringing in a new kind of employee: germ-zapping robots. The machines, made by Texas-based health technology firm Xenex, can sanitize a hospital room in minutes using ultraviolet technology.
Medical centers are imposing new cleanliness standards to reduce the risk of patient exposure to potentially fatal hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). An increasing number of deaths from these “superbugs,” which resist traditional antibiotic treatment, has stepped up demand for products that can reduce the spread of infections originating in medical facilities.
More than 2 million people contract an infection in US hospitals each year, costing hospitals some $30.5 billion, according to Forbes.
The Xenex robot is already cleaning more than 250 hospitals in more than 40 states, including some Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense facilities. It is also used in a number of nursing homes, ambulatory surgery centers, and international medical centers. At a cost of about $100,000, the robot uses automated disinfection technology to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and spores.
The machine uses xenon, a nontoxic gas, to create full-spectrum UV rays. Older mercury-based UV lamps take up to an hour to disinfect a hospital room, and Xenex claims its machines have a broader germicidal spectrum than mercury UV systems.
Studies have shown a decrease in Clostridium difficile (C. diff), Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and other antibiotic-resistant infections when hospitals use the Xenex UV disinfection technology. On the market since 2010, the Xenex robot got a nice publicity boost when it was shown to be effective in eliminating Ebola germs in late 2014.
A recent $25 million investment from an Irish company should lead to further development of the robot, as well as the expansion of sales efforts in the US and abroad.
The federal government is also taking action to reduce the spread of HAIs. Under health reform legislation, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is reducing reimbursements to hospitals that have high infection rates.
In a bold move against antibiotic resistance, the Obama administration is proposing a National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. The program would channel $1.2 billion into ongoing efforts such as encouraging drug companies to develop new antibiotics and pushing doctors and farmers to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics in humans and food animals.
Hospitals are also launching new employee training and monitoring programs to ensure compliance with stricter disinfection standards, including handwashing and equipment sanitation rules.
Industry Impact — By improving sanitation processes, hospitals and other health care facilities could strengthen quality of care, improve patient loyalty, and reduce expenses related to infection and disease cases.
Photo courtesy of Xenex. Related video: