Mobile Robots Improve Hospital Logistics
By Cecilia Chan
As a high school student, I had two part-time hospital jobs: cafeteria worker and patient support worker. My job tasks included meal delivery/pickup, linen delivery, and patient or lab sample transport…so this piece of technology resonates with me. Continuing on the theme of robots changing lives, authors of a 2011 journal article in Industrial Robot summarized the many benefits of mobile robots in hospitals.
The TUG is a mobile robot developed by Aethon (Pittsburgh, PA) to address hospital logistics needs. It is designed to travel autonomously throughout a hospital to handle linen and meal delivery or pickup, and pharmacy or lab sample transport. Similar robots known as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) have long been in use by automotive manufacturers to deliver auto parts from the warehouse to the assembly line in an efficient and accurate manner. The TUG system consists of a battery powered mobile drive and steer module, a control module, and a detachable load carrying module. Each drive unit is capable of moving loads up to 227 kg – great for reducing ergonomic risks associated with manual material handling!
As Rick Barker of Humantech recently blogged, “the number of people requiring nursing care is outpacing the number of nurses, and as our population ages, this rate will only increase.” Studies have shown that nurses spend as much as 30% of their time dealing with logistics, such as tracking supplies, lab results, and medications. TUGs are currently used in over 100 hospitals nationwide. They have been credited with reducing medication delivery time and lab sample turnaround time by over 50% and reduced the number of drugs misdirected or lost in transit. The TUG system also improved delivery times on night and weekend shifts when manpower was limited. This technology is positively improving patient care by allowing nurses to devote more time to patient care while driving down hospital operating costs.