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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Replaced By Robots

Published September 22, 2008 10:32 AM by Glen McDaniel

A few years ago I visited a hospital in eastern Tennessee and was fascinated by a pharmacy robot named Alexander. Alexander would take medications from the pharmacy up to the floors. Alex, holding its precious cargo in a secure ATM-like body, would, using infrared technology, take the elevator, select a floor, open the door and go deliver medication securely to an automated medication delivery system such as a Pyxis with no assistance from a human and no risk of tampering or theft.

Other pharmacies use robots in the pharmacy to dispense meds, count pills, keep inventory and otherwise automate repetitive tasks

At the recent AACC/ASCLS Lab Exposition in Washington, DC, recently, I saw a robot that could move specimens around the lab from specimen accessioning to the testing department or from one department to another. It would even request passage or announce its approach by a sensor activated mechanized voice.

A recent article in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons described a study at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore in which gastric bypass patients visited by a robot (yes a robot!) were discharged on the average of a day earlier than those who had only real-live physician visits. The robots, called RP-7, visited patients several times a day and had a video monitor, camera and microphone by which patients could communicate with their doctors. Doctors visited only once daily. 

Of 92 patients visited by RP-7, 71 were discharged at least 1 day earlier than normal. The other 284 patients visited only by a doctor took at least one day longer to reach discharge status. Who cares? According to the study, these early discharges yielded the hospital more than $200, 000 in new admissions and saved more than $14, 000 in room and board.

These are all wonderful, but it reminds me how often laboratorians point to any new automation as possibly replacing laboratorians; a possible threat to job security. Others in healthcare welcome robotics and recognize them as mere tools to improve patient care, and make our lives easier, but without the capability of being substitutes for real live skilled professionals.

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