Robots deliver pills as new hospital fuses tech and healthcare

stanford hospital
Pic: Stanford Medicine

The newly opened Stanford Hospital can lay a claim to be the most technology-laden hospital in the world. Built at a cost of $2.1 billion, the facility was more than 10 years in the making, and is part of Stanford Health Care’s hospital campus in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley.

The 824,000-square-foot, seven-story medical building features 368 private rooms and 20 state-of-the-art operating suites.

Patients can control the entertainment system, lighting and climate control from their hospital bed via a touchscreen.

The hospital is integrated with the MyHealth app, which can help patients contact a physician if required.

The hospital is also packed full of automation aimedat handing off repetitive and mechanical tasks to machines — 23 delivery robots will travel on pre-programmed routes throughout the hospital and three pharmacy robots will store and package medication — will prevent employee injuries, reduce medication errors and free up staff to focus on the more valuable and satisfying work of assisting clinicians and caring for patients, said Gary Fritz, vice president and chief of applications for Stanford Health Care.

“The real value of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians comes when they use their clinical knowledge to care for patients, not to count pills,” Fritz said. “Similarly, in the supply chain, routine activities like pushing a cart 30 minutes in each direction isn’t really job enriching, but what is enriching is if those people can talk to patients or spend time figuring out how to get better supplies.”

The robots use lasers and GPS to create a 3D map of their surroundings and determine if they need to stop or move to get around an obstacle. The robots convert that 3D map to a 2D image, so managers and staff can remotely track them in real-time. The TUGs have the capability to open doors wirelessly and stop when they sense movement that may interfere with their path.

Initially, the TUGs will be used to carry carts full of small packages, bulk food, non-urgent medical supplies and linens to the basement level of the new hospital, where, for now, a staff member will get the items to their final destination. The TUGs also will haul dirty linens, used food trays and garbage from the new hospital and ferry it back to the dock.

In between jobs, the TUGs automatically return to recharge at their docking stations.
Robotic pharmacy.

Sensors track both equipment and staff in real time to keep tabs on inventory. Doctors and nurses can both monitor multiple patients from one location (with alerts going directly to locked-down mobile devices), while MRI scanners and other technical equipment will integrate with each other.

The hospital is designed to be futureproof and will not require an overhaul to accommodate new tech. An upcoming test will use an AI system with depth and thermal sensors to boost patient safety.