Healthcare, Embedded and Connected

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media , June 10, 2014

"Being in the heart of Silicon Valley, we do have many examples of the technologies that are used, such as palm scanners for registering patients," says Ken King, chief administrative services officer at El Camino Hospital. "We have robotic CyberKnifes. We have da Vinci robotic surgery systems. We have robotic systems in our lab. So most of these things are integrated to work well with one another in the facility."

Featured in a report on 60 Minutes in January 2013, El Camino has 20 robot tugs deployed in multiple departments. "We made the decision early on to use robots because our prior hospital building was a vertical building of about 1,100 gross square feet per bed," King says. "Our new hospital building is about 2,300 square feet per bed, and it's very horizontal. In our old building we had trash chutes and linen chutes and vertical transportation that allowed us to move products."

Eighteen months prior to occupying the new building, El Camino's leadership team had considered adding 12.6 full-time equivalent employees, but by opting for the tugs instead was able to save $377,000 in 2008 dollars, King says. "That has significantly grown as our cost of labor has increased over the last five years, so the savings continue to be realized," he adds.

The tugs can also navigate portions of the old El Camino Hospital still in use, King adds. Implementation was very simple and relatively inexpensive, he says. "We had to install relays at doors and elevators and integrate it with our wireless infrastructure that was already designed, so that made the decision a lot easier to use the tug robots," King says. "The CAD plans that we had designed that guided the building of the building were also used to guide the tugs." Along with their preprogramming, the tugs use an array of sensors to notify operators if they get blocked, a rare occurrence.

"They do take control of the elevators. That was something that took a little adjustment for our staff, and we did make adjustments," King says. "We were fortunate in our building design that we had a significant amount of elevator capacity.

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