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ChristianaCare pilots ‘cobots,’ AI tech

Katie Tabeling
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Moxi, a cobot that uses artificial intelligence to navigate hospital floors, will be used to help fetch and deliver medicine and charts to nurses. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CHRISTIANACARE

WILMINGTON — Imagine having a robot on hand to run errands for you.

That’s what’s happening at ChristianaCare, except they’re collaborative robots — or “cobots”— that can glide across the hospital floors and even take the elevator to fetch medicine or deliver medical records to nurses or personal belongings to the lost and found.

With a $1.5 million grant in hand from the American Nurses Foundation, ChristianaCare plans on introducing at least five cobots in the next three years as the latest innovation to aid nurses in Delaware’s largest health care system.

“Nurses across the country have been very challenged with staffing. We also know from workflow studies that there’s a significant amount of time being taken up looking for supplies. Will the cobot be able to do 100% of those things? Probably not, but it will do a significant amount, which will save some time,” ChristianaCare Chief Nursing Informatics Officer Katherine Collard said.

Nurses can call the cobot, named Moxi, from a kiosk at the nursing station or the pharmacy or equipment room. Like calling an Uber car, nurses and employees can call Moxi to a specific place and pack it with insulin or a drug pump. From there, a nurse can tap on Moxi’s screen to order where to go to make the drop off. Moxi makes light beeps to catch someone’s attention, and it has eyes made up of pinpricks of blue lights on its oblong face.

Using artificial intelligence, Moxi is mapping out Christiana Hospital as it wheels its way through the halls, using sensors and other machine-learning technology so it can operate on its own. When the cobots are fully integrated, Collard said she expects they will be able to make up to 200 deliveries a day.

Looking at it from a human perspective, nurses spend about 33% of their shifts picking up medicine or dropping off lab specimens, walking miles in shifts. Leaving those tasks up to Moxi would free up ChristianaCare nurses to focus on their patients. 

“It’s a lot of work right now to get them up and running because they have to be taught the hallway and where to press the button to open the eclectic doors,” Collard said. “But the hope is that it will take away some of those roles that nurses were doing before to keep them closer to patients.”

The Moxi model is built by Diligent Robotics and is on the cutting-edge of technology in health care. Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles and Shannon Medical Center in West Texas started using the cobots in late 2021.

During his travels, ChristianaCare Chief Nurse Executive Ric Cuming saw Moxi in action. When he came back to the First State, he started conversations internally to start a pilot program, using donor money to fund it. The pilot program has two cobots, and is expected to run until the end of 2022.

With the $1.5 million grant, ChristianaCare aims to take the cobot program one step further and integrate it with the Cerner Corporation electronic health record (EHR) platform. That means by using artificial intelligence, Moxi will be able to sense when nurses will need equipment, supplies, medications and lab tests.

The goal is to deploy five Moxi cobots to 11 inpatient units, assisting with more than 400 nurses. The American Nurses Foundation grant will enable ChristianaCare to research the impact of cobots on nursing practice with the goal of scaling the technology if successful.

“Moxi is not a replacement for a nurse or nursing position — or any position,” Cuming said in a statement. “With robotic technology, we are using resources wisely and effectively, creating more efficient workflows, reducing repetitive tasks and freeing up nurses’ time for the complex clinical work that they excel at doing.”

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