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Robots clean up hospital epidemics

Posting in Science

Xenex is a mobile, robotic device that uses pulsed light technology to eradicate germs more effectively.

Hospitals are meant to be where the sick go to get well. However, in both the U.S. and across the pond, what we can expect from hospitals is not necessarily to get better, but potentially get worse.

In the UK, continual outbreaks of infection in hospitals is a common occurance. I do not know anyone over the age of 65 that has gone in to a UK hospital and not caught an infection while there, which has sometimes resulted in worsening their condition or has even overtaken the original problem with damaging consequences.

Many reasons are given to why this is currently happening in medical facilities. The loss of 'matrons' in the UK, expanding hospitals, too many patients, and constant cost-cutting are all factors which may be to blame. There may be slight improvements, such as an emphasis on disinfecting your hands while on hospital grounds, but perhaps this simply isn't enough considering the structure, size, and lack of funding hospitals face.

Xenex is a mobile, robotic device that steers away from traditional, chemical cleaning and instead uses pulsed light technology to eradicate germs more effectively.

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"The Xenex system is the fastest, safest, and most cost-effective way to automate room disinfection and increase patient safety -- and is proven to be 20 times more effective than standard chemical cleaning. The Xenex system is the world's only room disinfection technology to result in a facility-wide decrease in C.Difficile infection rates."

In a device that looks suspiciously like R2-D2 from Star Wars, millisecond pulses of ultraviolet light are blasted across hospital rooms, penetrating bacteria. The light technology either scrambles their DNA, preventing them from spreading, or kills the infection immediately. So-called 'smart lamp' technology focuses the light to 'high touch' surfaces -- which are most likely to be fertile grounds for bacteria to spawn.

In order to protect staff and patients, the robotic cleaner also contains motion sensors that shut down the system if someone disturbs it; as exposure can cause mild sunburn.

The Xenex brochure (.pdf) states that hospitals benefit from:

  • An 82 percent decrease in infection rates.
  • It is 20 percent more effective than manual cleaning chemicals.
  • Establishments save $2.3 million from the reduced cost of infections.
  • Only 5 minutes 'treatment time' is required.

The results are based on findings from various hospital and academic studies (.pdf) of the cleaning equipment.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital, in Northampton, Mass. started using the Xenex cleaner in 2011. So far, according to statistics from Nov 2011, only eight patients developed C. diff in that time period, and none of the infections became fatal.

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure