Imagine an intelligent system managing the surgical tool sterilization process in a hospital - ensuring safe delivery of care, enabling new levels of hospital efficiency, and delivering with surgical accuracy all of the medical devices doctors need to perform life-saving procedures. At GE Global Research, the technology development arm for the General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), scientists envision such a future and will soon begin a groundbreaking project designed to leverage the power of the Industrial Internet to transform the way hospitals manage and track their thousands of surgical tools.
Working with GE Healthcare and the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA), Global Research scientists will develop a prototype system capable of locating, sorting, delivering, and sterilizing surgical tools with little oversight. A mash up of technology, including robotic systems, RFID, and computer vision will form the backbone of the automated system. Tools such as clamps and scalpels will be provided a unique ID so that they are readily identifiable by various robotic components. The prototype system will perform various tasks, including kitting of surgical tools, movement throughout the sterilization process, and transport to and from the operating theater ensuring the correct tools are in the right place, at the right time, and in sterile and working order. Click HERE to see a video which further outlines the project and shows a few of the robots GE is considering using.
"The technologies we're investigating have been used to automate manufacturing processes in industrial settings for years, and we believe they, in combination with a new level of intelligence, can have a substantial impact in hospitals," said Lynn DeRose, Principal Investigator and Auto-ID technology expert in the Distributed Intelligent Systems Lab at GE Global Research. "At GE, we're uniquely positioned to construct a smart solution that can make operating rooms run more efficiently, save millions of dollars in healthcare costs and lead to better patient outcomes."
In most hospitals today, tools are inspected, washed, and counted multiple times by hand. This process is inefficient, fraught with errors, and could lead to critical delays, and more importantly, adverse patient events. According to the Institute of Medicine, between 44,000 and 98,000 patients die every year due to preventable medical errors accounting for a $12-$25 billion cost to the U.S. healthcare system. Automating the device recognition, delivery, and accounting processes is expected to significantly reduce hospital costs.