The nursing staff at Lancaster General Hospital (LGH) has some new helping hands in the form of two robot assistants. “Roxy” and “Rosie” assist with routine non-clinical tasks, such as pickup and delivery of supplies, enabling nurses to focus on patient care.

“This is one way of limiting tasks that are important to patient care but don’t necessarily require a nurse to complete,” according to Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health (LG Health) Interim Chief Nursing Officer Tim Zellers, MBA, MSN, CRNP. During a typical shift, this may include spending a significant amount of time retrieving and gathering personal protective equipment, lab samples, medications, and other items. Said Zellers, “The robots allow our nurses to focus on what they’re actually trained to do, and that’s to take care of patients.”

The robots’ creator, Diligent Robotics, builds robots specifically to assist nurses and other members of the health-care team. While its robots are in use in hospitals across the country, LGH is the first hospital in the Penn Medicine system—and in the state of Pennsylvania—to partner with Diligent.

LG Health does not own the robots but instead pays a fee based on how heavily they are used throughout the 525-bed, nine-floor hospital. The robots, which are part of a year-long pilot that began in August, are already completing dozens of tasks—and saving employees hundreds of minutes and thousands of steps—each day.

Allen Cubell, LG Health executive director of Innovation, said the pilot is just one example of Penn Medicine’s continued investment in innovations that make health-care workers’ jobs easier. Roxy and Rosie are very visible examples of those efforts, which also include initiatives to reduce the time providers spend on documentation and inbox management. 

“As a team, we are focused on ways we can use innovation to reduce the burdens on our busy clinicians,” he said. “The robots help our clinical staff to do more of what they love, instead of running around the hospital.”

Service With a Smile – and a Selfie or Two

Two robot assistants at Lancaster General Health, labeled Roxy and Rosie.

Roxy and Rosie were named through a contest held by the LGH nursing staff. Those of a certain age might recognize the nod to the classic cartoon show, “The Jetsons,” where the futuristic namesake family employed a robot housekeeper named “Rosie.”

After completing several weeks of training by human technicians, the robots are able to navigate the hallways of the hospital autonomously, including the elevators. Reaching a top speed of about three miles per hour, they deliver and pick up routine lab specimens, such as urine samples or COVID test swabs. (Specimens that are deemed urgent or require chilling or other special handling are carried by humans instead of the robots.)

Roxy and Rosie also pick up and deliver equipment for monitoring patients’ heart rhythm, which is commonly needed by patients in units all over the hospital. Previously, these tasks were handled exclusively by technicians in the Central Monitoring Unit, which took them away from their primary responsibility of observing patients’ heart activity.

To request a robot to complete a task, a staff member uses one of several iPad kiosks located throughout the hospital. Pickups and deliveries are made securely using a badge swipe. Each robot has three drawers of different sizes, making it possible to deliver several items, or to multiple locations, at once. 

The robot’s response time depends on how many other tasks are already in the queue. Roxy and Rosie are in service 22 hours a day, spending the other two hours charging on docking stations located within the hospital. They can also navigate to a docking station for a “nap” when not in use. 

The robots are equipped with sensors to detect obstacles and will either stop or go around any that they encounter. (They announce themselves to passersby in the halls with a polite, “Pardon me, may I get to that spot, please?”) 

Roxy and Rosie do not enter patients’ rooms or interact with patients. But with their blinking heart eyes, friendly “chirps,” and willingness to pose for selfies, they are a source of fascination and delight for many hospital visitors and staff alike.

Zellers said the robots are not meant to replace people or fulfill jobs that are currently done by nurses or others on the clinical team. Instead, they work side-by-side to support clinical staff, helping them to save time and do their jobs more efficiently. 

“The robots assist our clinical team with tasks that take them away from the bedside, so they can devote more time to patient care,” he said. “It also improves the experience, certainly, for our patients, who get to spend more face-to-face time with the staff taking care of them.” 

‘They Make Everyone’s Lives a Little Easier’

A nurse opens a drawer containing medical supplies on a robot assistant at Lancaster General Health.

Justin Gavaghan, RN, BSN, admits to some initial skepticism about the robots. As a nurse on a busy medical-surgical unit at LGH for four years, he was wary of the time it would take to learn a new process. He also pictured technical glitches and long waits for a delivery. 

Gavaghan has found that engaging with Roxy and Rosie gets easier with time and practice. Along with shortening the to-do list, he has come to appreciate the robots for adding a welcome dose of lightheartedness and a break from the stresses of the day. 

Depending on a unit’s location in the hospital, calling on a robot can easily save a staff member from a 10-minute trek, Gavaghan said. While helping out on another unit recently, he saw seven calls for robotic assistance during a 12-hour shift. 

“When we get really busy, it’s nice that you can call a robot for help,” Gavaghan said. “They’re especially valuable on the night shift, when we tend to have fewer staff. It makes everyone’s lives a little easier and frees us up to do other things.”

Just weeks into the pilot, the Innovation team’s Cubell reports that Roxy and Rosie are already approaching their capacity for daily use, making a total of 70 to 80 deliveries per day. About one-third of those are “batch” deliveries, meaning two or three deliveries combined for efficiency.

The team is considering other possible uses for the robots, such as transporting patient care equipment during the overnight hours or delivering a utensil or condiment that is inadvertently missing from a patient’s food tray. 

“Based on the results of the pilot, it’s possible that we will add more robots in the future,” Cubell said. “Roxy and Rosie are high-tech, and they’re fun too. There’s no question that innovations like these are part of the future of health care.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *