A growing number of hospitals are buying robots that kill bacteria such as C-difficile as they seek new tools to stop costly and deadly hospital-acquired infections. But there are questions about how best to use the new disinfection robots.
The University of Vermont Medical Center, a health system based in Burlington, is one of hundreds of U.S. hospitals that have purchased a disinfection robot. Sally Hess, U-V's manager of infection prevention, said the two Xenex Disinfection Services robots purchased last year add an “extra level of protection” to the hospital's infection-control program. It removes the element of human error, she said.
The market for disinfection robots is expected to grow from $30 million in 2014 to $80 million by 2017. But as adoption grows, hospitals have to decide which of two technologies is better, how to deploy the robots most efficiently, and whether they actually reduce hospital-acquired infections.
There is limited independent research showing that the robots, which can cost upward of $100,000, reduce infections. Most experts agree the systems do kill pathogens found on hospital room surfaces. But there are no studies comparing the two dominant technologies—systems using hydrogen peroxide vapor and those using ultraviolet-C light. The latter are more commonly used.
“There's no question they kill bugs,” Hess said. “But do they really lead to reductions in hospital-acquired infections? Nobody really knows.”
Two factors have driven increased interest in disinfection robots over the past 18 months. First, hospitals face stiff Medicare payment cuts for having excessive rates of patients who acquire infections while receiving care. Second, last year's Ebola outbreak and the infection of two nurses at a Dallas hospital fueled demand for new disinfection tools.
“Reimbursement revenues are at risk,” said Morris Miller, CEO of San Antonio-based Xenex, one of about 15 manufacturers marketing disinfection robots. “That means (hospitals) have got to be focused on this.”