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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Two Unique Employees Start Work at the Houston VA

June 10, 2004

Two Unique Employees Start Work at the Houston VA

Robotic couriers transport medications from the pharmacy to various nursing units within the hospital, eliminating the time-consuming errands nurses now run.

Released: 2004/06/10

Two Unique Employees Start Work
Robots at the Ready - "Jewels" and "King Tut," the new robotic help-mates at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, transport medications and supplies from the pharmacy to various nursing units in the hospital, decreasing the time-consuming errands formerly run by nurses. Here, nursing staff members accept a special delivery from Jewels.

Photo by: Frances M. Burke

HOUSTON, TX - Jewels and King Tut are two brand-new employees at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center (MEDVAMC) hired to help make the jobs of nurses and pharmacy staff easier. These robotic couriers, or helpmates, transport medications and supplies from the pharmacy to various nursing units within the hospital, decreasing the time-consuming errands nurses now run.

MEDVAMC is the only hospital in the Houston area to have these robotic helpmates. "The robotic helpmates will help MEDVAMC accomplish our mission by allowing nursing staff to remain on the units providing quality and timely care for our veterans. The helpmates are state-of-the-art technology in a very complex, highly technical medical center and will enhance the meeting of our mission" said Deloris Leftridge, MEDVAMC chief nurse executive. Leftridge went on to say the performance of two robots will be reevaluated in 30 days to determine if their services could be expanded into other areas of the hospital.

A single robotic helpmate can carry up to 200 pounds in its storage compartment. Nursing and pharmacy staff members type in their user identification number and place their index finger on the bio-identification scanner in order to open the storage compartment. This two-step access procedure ensures the security of medications and supplies.

To find their destination, Jewels and King Tut have a map of the hospital programmed into their computer memory banks. They use sonar and lasers to avoid obstacles along their way. If an obstacle does block their path, the robots will stop, announce that their way is blocked, and request the obstacle be removed. Both are programmed to speak in English and Spanish. They require a battery change at each shift.

The robots are also able to ride elevators along with veterans and MEDVAMC employees. However, their manufacturer recommends fellow passengers allow the robots to enter the elevator first and turn around before humans board. Otherwise, the helpmates might see the humans as obstacles and possibly delay the elevator's progress. Jewels and King Tut communicate with the elevator through a wireless Ethernet network so passengers do not have to worry about them getting off on the wrong floor or letting the robots go to their floor first.

Pharmacy staff members are responsible for programming missions and destinations into the robots and monitor each robot's progress and location on a computer screen.

"The robots are in step with the cutting-edge health care initiatives VA offers to our veterans. We already have computerized patient records, bar coded medications for patient safety, and so many other advances. These are all important programs and processes not seen in any other hospital system in the Texas Medical Center. We are definitely on the cutting-edge," said Diane Dorsey, R.N., MEDVAMC Medical Intensive Care Unit charge nurse.

"As a nurse for 46 years, these robotic helpmates would have been wonderful to have. I am fascinated with the technology," said a female Navy veteran and current patient at the MEDVAMC.

MEDVAMC nursing executives have already seen the advantages of having the robots work in the facility. The amount of time nursing staff must spend away from the nursing unit to obtain missed or discharge medications has been drastically reduced. This means more efficient use of valuable nurses, better customer service to veterans, and improved patient care. So when you see Jewels or King Tut rolling down a hallway, remember, they are on a mission for our veterans.

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Point of Contact: VHAHOU Public Affairs

06/09/04 02:47