The need for disinfection and cleaning in hospitals and other patient care facilities during the pandemic is obvious. The hospital environment is one of the most possible sources for the transmission of viruses. They can survive on inanimate surfaces in hospitals for up to several days and longer.
As economies slowly reopen, public hotspots such as airports, event venues, public transportation, etc., also play a vital role in preventing virus spread. These places are most likely to be contaminated with frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, handrails, elevator buttons, faucet handles, seats, and tables.
In most cases, the cleaning capacity can quickly reach its limit under pandemic conditions, and frequent cleaning cannot be ensured. Therefore, the idea of using robots for cleaning and disinfection in hospitals, open-access spaces, and industrial facilities is gaining momentum everywhere.
Today, the robots also use a range of disinfection modes, from hydrogen peroxide fog to electrostatic spray. Some robots use multiple disinfection modes at once. The most widely applied technology for surface disinfection is ultraviolet UVC radiation, known to be effective for viral and bacterial disinfection in many contexts. All types of UV disinfection robots offer an effective non-touch way to clean and kill microorganisms.
How do UVC disinfection robots help?
- They reduce exposure to risk and save time by providing a coarse “first pass” of disinfection, even when manual cleaning is still needed.
- They can very efficiently identify and target frequently touched surfaces.
- They augment cleaning and capacity and frequency by supplementing cleaning staff.
- They address labor shortages when cleaning staff fall ill or cannot come to work.
- They assist managers with oversight and planning by tracking, scheduling, and reporting on cleaning routes and completion schedules.
- They provide quality assurance for disinfection procedures by analyzing (e.g., air) samples and alerting cleaning staff/managers when the virus is present.
- They reassure customers, employees, and the public that hygiene measures are being taken.
Advantages of UVC disinfection robots
UVC disinfection robots are a valuable alternative to solution-based products, manual cleaning, and disinfection in times of a limited supply of traditional surface disinfectants. Manual disinfection is often variable because efficacy depends on individuals and their motivation, and assessing this requires direct on-site observation. Despite best practice recommendations, manual cleaning requires training, understanding, renewal, and turnover of cleaning staff and the control and inspection of their performance.
Advantages of UVC robots are:
- Robots can work autonomously without the need for ongoing human presence at the disinfection site. This eliminates exposure to the infection and to harmful UV radiation.
- Applying UVC as a final disinfection step provides an additional hygiene benefit to reducing cross-transmission and healthcare-associated infections.
- UV light leave no residues, making this an environmentally friendly disinfection method.
Disadvantages of UVC disinfection robots
Today’s hospital designs and inventories are not built to allow disinfection robots to meet their potential. Rooms in hospitals have high bed occupancy levels in many countries, and it is practically challenging to automate operations in rooms and wards full of patients. This limits robots navigating in space and reaching surfaces to be disinfected.
Moreover, disinfection robots need an expert supervisor for setting and overseeing the program and resetting after encountering unforeseen obstacles. Using a disinfection robot in addition to routine measures adds work instead of exploiting its full potential. UVC robots need additional time that interferes with daily hospital routines since their use is not integrated into the workflow of hospitals. However, this new technology can be best used to supplement current hospital cleaning and disinfecting practices.
To sum up, disinfection robots are a promising tool for surface decontamination in the hospital already today, but with even greater potential tomorrow. One size does not fit all. Further design adjustments of hospitals and devices are needed to overcome shadowing and free the movement of robots in the hospital environment.