Today, healthcare facilities are increasingly struggling to manage the presence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs and reduce the number of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) contracted by patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 700,000 patients in U.S. acute care hospitals suffer from at least one HAI and 75,000 die as a result from these preventable infections. 

A high HAI rate can lead to poor patient satisfaction surveys, a damaged public reputation and increased employee dissatisfaction and turnover. However, applying the best practices for environmental surface cleaning and disinfection can help limit the spread of harmful bacteria. In order to help janitorial staff focus more on routine cleaning and disinfection tasks, some hospitals are turning to automated hands-free floor care machines. It would help facility managers to understand how these innovative robots solve cleaning challenges, the features to look for when selecting a machine and tips for a seamless transition.

Cleaning Challenges

Cleaning robots can help janitorial staff in hospitals overcome several issues, including: 

    +Pressure to clean more with fewer resources: Healthcare facilities are increasingly faced with providing the highest standards of clean while keeping costs low by maintaining a small cleaning team and reducing waste. Robotic machines clean floors on their own with the push of a button, allowing employees to focus on high-touch areas where pathogens reside. Robotic floor cleaners also use chemicals more conservatively to reduce costs. More thorough and sustainable cleaning improves the bottom line and patient health. 
    +Prevention of HAIs: Bacteria and viruses left on surfaces and floors can’t be seen by the naked eye, but their presence can increase the risk of HAIs. Hands-free machines can clean floors with purified water to remove potentially harmful bacteria and viruses.  
    +Patient satisfaction scores: Surveys by the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems record patients’ perspectives of their hospital experience and provide a national standard for facilities. Hospitals striving to achieve stellar scores should aim to provide patients with clean, quiet and HAI-free visits. Hands-free machines can clean quietly, and because they pick up dirt and water with ease, there is no need to make multiple passes through hallways to achieve the necessary level of clean. This ensures hallways are not blocked for long periods of time.
    +An aging workforce: Many employees are staying in the workforce beyond typical retirement age, and facilities must be conscious of the physical strain associated with cleaning tasks. Automated machines are a great addition to an aging cleaning team because they are easy to operate and can handle the bulk of floor care, which is often an ergonomically challenging and repetitive job.
    +Cleaning validation and improvement: Access to data allows facilities to better understand and improve processes. Hands-free machines with wireless reporting systems track machine location, routes, date and duration of last usage, and potential maintenance issues. This data helps facility managers validate that cleaning has occurred and then make changes to improve the process. 
Selecting a Machine

Organizations can choose hands-free models designed for hard surfaces or carpets. When purchasing a robotic machine, the hospital facility manager should look for a model that is:

    +Easy to operate: The head custodian should be able to prep the machine easily, point it in the desired direction and press start. Today’s more advanced machines use multiple sensors to gather a 360-degree view of the surrounding area to detect and avoid walls, stairs and people. The machine should have area maps installed for simple layouts as well as the ability to map for more complex floor layouts. 
    +Safe: The machine should offer excellent water pick-up so that floors aren’t wet after cleaning. This helps reduce the opportunity for slip-and-fall accidents. To safeguard patients, facility managers should look for robotic healthcare units that use an ultraviolet light to kill nearly 100 percent of viruses and bacteria from the water placed on floors. 
    +Reliable: A long battery life ensures machines can run for several hours at a time without being recharged. Units should be durable and able to operate on their own or manually by a staff member.
    +Sustainable: The unit should promote sustainability and cost savings by conserving water and chemicals. Some green machines reduce, reuse and recycle water to lessen the amount of water and chemicals used during a cleaning shift by 85 percent, limiting environmental impact and providing clean reusable water.
    +Quiet: The machine should operate at low decibel levels so that patients and guests are not disturbed while cleaning is performed.
A Smooth Transition

When introducing robotic floor care machines into your cleaning program, it’s important to first look at the bigger picture. Break up floor plans to identify where machines can help and determine how your cleaning schedule should be coordinated. 

Educate your custodial staff through one-on-one and group training as well as memos and newsletters on the role of robotic machines so that they understand that these machines are tools for cleaning teams, not a replacement for manual labor. Consider including a breakdown of expected cost savings to show how the robotic machines will help provide a return on investment.

It’s important to conduct demonstrations onsite to give custodial staff an opportunity to see how the machines function and to test the machines themselves so they understand the ease of operation. Train the head custodian and those who will be operating the machine so that he or she can become an expert in starting and positioning the machines. Then work with staff members who previously cleaned floors to identify new tasks for them, such as cleaning windows and detailed cleaning within patient rooms, especially high-touch areas that hold bacteria and viruses, such as drinking fountains, door handles and bedside tables. By redistributing labor, facilities make cleaning more efficient and ultimately reduce costs.

Killing and removing harmful bacteria from hospital surfaces is critical to preventing the spread of potentially deadly infections to vulnerable patients. Facilities are increasingly looking for innovative ways to efficiently and cost-effectively maintain cleanliness. With the help of hands-free scrubbers, employees can get more cleaning done at the touch of a button, saving time, reducing costs and improving patient satisfaction. 

Dr. Stephen Dalton is the vice president of global marketing for infection prevention and healthcare integration and the lead of TASKI Intellibot with Sealed Air Diversey Care. TASKI Intellibot is the leading global manufacturer of hands-free commercial floor-cleaning equipment. Dalton can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . For more information, visit www.intellibotrobotics.com and www.sealedair.com.

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