Germ-killing robots help protect patients from infections

By Kristy Bleizeffer Apr 11, 2017

Housekeeping manager Craig Fitt watches through the window of ICU 13 as UV radiation eradicates unseen micro-organisms.

There’s no one in ICU Room 13, but it’s undergoing a deep clean nonetheless. 

Behind the closed doors, two light towers are bathing every nook, cranny, crevice and corner in shortwave UV radiation, frying any spores, virus or bacteria that may have survived manual disinfection. All that bystanders can see is a pale blue light shining from the room’s window.

This is the latest advancement in the arm’s race against Healthcare Associated Infections (HAI). As hospitals up the arsenal in new chemicals and cleaning techniques, germs adapt and become harder to kill (similar to how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics.) The IRS 1140m UV Light Disinfection system destroys the DNA and RNA micro-organisms need to reproduce. 

Wyoming Medical Center now employs this system in our never-ending effort to provide the safest, highest-quality of care to everyone who walks through our doors.

“The infection rates at Wyoming Medical Center are well below the national average in multiple specialties.  We are very proud of this,” said Mark Dowell, M.D., medical director of infection control at Wyoming Medical Center. “This new system is just another weapon in our armamentarium to fight infection and keeps us at the cutting edge. We will continue to provide the latest technologies to fight healthcare-associated infections.”

How does UV-C light disinfection work?

Infection Prevention Technologies’ 1140 Max germ-killing robot consists of two portable towers positioned on opposite sides of the room. Once everyone is outside, the towers are turned on and operated by “military-grade hand-held controls.” (A fancy way of saying remote controls).

Sensors detect the size of the room and the number of unique surfaces from furniture, fixtures, corners, etc., says Craig Fitt, housekeeping manager at Wyoming Medical Center. The machine calculates the time it will take to disinfect the room (around 30 minutes depending on size and contents), and monitors the process through the display screen on the control. Then it runs its cycle. UV light bounces around the room, reaching underneath, behind and around the furniture hitting every surface – even the underside of the hospital bed.

The machines emit UV-C, the light with the shortest wavelength of ultraviolet radiation. This radiation destroys germ DNA, including the DNA of the pathogens that pose the biggest risk to hospital patients. When the robot finishes its cycle, it turns itself off and notifies housekeeping staff.

“There is a smell associated with the UV, a kind of burning smell. We call it the smell of clean,” Fitt said.

Is it effective?

Preventing Healthcare Associated Infections (HAI) is a top priority at Wyoming Medical Center, and our infection rates are consistently better than the national average. Nevertheless, as germs become more resistant to cleaning agents, hospitals have to step up their pathogen-killing arsenal.

A study published in the October 2016 journal “Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology” found that UV-C light disinfection of patient rooms reduced Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections by 25 percent in high-risk patients who stayed in those rooms after disinfection. Another study found that combining standard cleaning with UV light disinfection (as Wyoming Medical Center does) can cut by 30 percent transmission of four resistant bacteria. These include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE), C. diff and Acinetobacter baumannii (A. baumannii). 

The IRS 1140m UV Light Disinfection system is seen working through the window of ICU 13 during a demonstration.

“Patient safety is first and foremost for us,” said Fitt. “Everything the hospital does is to make sure the patient is safe from the moment they come into the facility to the moment they leave. We’re always looking for that better technology or evidence-based best practice. Reducing hospital-acquired infections is not only best for patients, it is best for our facility as well.”

Is it safe?

With the remote starts and control, the system works behind closed doors so no people are exposed to the UV radiation. Sensors can detect door movement and shut the machines down when room doors are opened during disinfection. The same is true for movement inside the room, and the machines will not work if people are in the room with them.

The system also leaves behind no residue from chemical cleaning agents.

When is it used?

UV light disinfection is used in every room in which the previous patient was under isolation precautions – a set of patient care guidelines meant to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Housekeeping staff cleans the room as it normally would, then notifies the team to bring in the UV Light Disinfection system.

The team is also trying to disinfect every room in the hospital at least quarterly and more frequently for ICU rooms when possible. 

Why did Wyoming Medical Center invest in this system?

The Wyoming Department of Health designated Wyoming Medical Center as an Ebola Assessment Hospital, meaning we must be prepared to isolate, evaluate and care for a suspected Ebola patient for up to 96 hours, until the virus is either confirmed or ruled out. As part of the designation, WMC has implemented strict protocols for dealing with suspected Ebola patients and had its plans reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When developing our own plans, we looked to the hospitals that actually cared for Ebola patients during the West African outbreak from 2015. Those hospitals relied on either UV light disinfection or another highly specialized system for disinfecting its rooms and equipment after caring for an Ebola patient. We paid for the system with grant money to help us become an Ebola Assessment Hospital.

Though the chances are low that a patient infected with Ebola will be treated at Wyoming Medical Center, our Ebola protocols can be used when treating other highly infectious diseases.

Mark Dowell M.D.

Dr. Dowell is board certified in infectious disease and is the medical director of Infectious Disease at Wyoming Medical Center. He is also the Natrona County health officer. He moved to Casper in 1992 and was the first infectious disease specialist in the state of Wyoming. He raised two kids here. He founded and practices at Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases.

Email Article

Send "Germ-killing robots help protect patients from infections" to a friend