Robots playing increasingly important roles in health care

July 11, 2013

They are robots, and they are changing the face of medicine.

It looks like an advanced video game. Many surgeons are now using the da Vinci robot in the operating room. It allows trained surgeons to do more intricate procedures with less damage to healthy tissue.

"We can take care of a problem with less pain and suffering and a much faster discharge from the hospital," said Dr. Daniel Eun of Temple University.

But da Vinci isn't the only robot advancing medicine.

Meet RUSS, short for Robotic Unit Supply Specialist.

Russ is one of two battery-powered robots which carry supplies around Lehigh Valley's Cedar Crest Hospital.

"They are programmed to go to 39 different areas in the hospital," said Lehigh Valley's Mike Minelli.

And they don't require a lot of human help.

When RUSS arrives at his destination, a nurse unlocks the door, retrieves the supplies, and sends the robot to its next stop.

Lehigh Valley opted for the robots because it had trouble finding people for the courier job.

The hospital also relies on a rather large robot that workers call Rosie. It's an automated pharmacy that can work 24 hours a day.

It fills prescriptions while also checking for drug interactions or allergies. And Rosie can multi-task flawlessly.

"She can be packaging, she can be putting away returns, she can be picking first dosages for a patient, and she can be doing a cart fill, all at the same time," said pharmacist Leroy Cromis.

And if the machine can't read a drug's barcode, it doesn't guess. It rejects it.

Lehigh Valley has one more set of so-called 'robots': 5 infection-busting cleaning machines called Tru-D, or Trudy.

Once the regular cleaning is done, Trudy is moved in. Its ultra-violet light eradicates germs, viruses, and the dangerous super-bug C-difficile.

"It basically bounces anywhere that the electric eyes on top of the machine see, and reflects off," said infection control nurse Terry Burger.

Finally, one note about the da Vinci robot. If you are having surgery and this is an option for you, ask the surgeon how many procedures he or she has done with the new technology. You want someone who is experienced with it.

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