The outbreak of COVID-19 was truly humbling, reminding us how ill-prepared we are for such crises. However, even from a pessimistic standpoint, it looks like humankind didn’t fail this test. As we learn more about the virus, new inventive methods appear to help us stand against it. Many of these measures, like a mist disinfection gate and a room disinfection robot, are leveraging smart technologies that have already proven their efficiency in other fields. Undoubtedly, these innovations can actually bring value to both patients and healthcare providers.

Smart Solutions: The Strategic View

When we hear about the healthcare system’s ability to respond to the pandemic, the first thing that comes to mind is the effectiveness of disinfection solutions. While certainly true, this is just one of many factors that enable the response. In fact, smart solutions can contribute to safety of the facility in many ways:

  1. Offloading routine tasks from staff
  2. Automating administrative workflow
  3. Improving the scheduling-dependent processes
  4. Supplying data for monitoring and analysis

So, for instance, a gateway disinfection tunnel integrated with the facility’s processes is not only a powerful sanitation tool but also a huge time saver and, possibly, a valuable source of information about the condition of both caregivers and visitors. Since understaffing has been a major issue far before the 2020 crisis, these solutions will probably remain in demand even after society returns to normal.

Hospital Disinfection Robot

Crowding became one of the main concerns during the outbreak of the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus. Thus, organizations turned to the most ubiquitous method of dealing with routine tasks – robotics. Even before the pandemic, robots were in widespread use for cleaning purposes, so it didn’t take long for the anti-COVID variety to appear. China was a trend-setter in this field, using disinfection robots in healthcare early in the course of the pandemic.

Since then, many countries have followed suit, with robotic cleaners being used in facilities throughout the world. In November of last year, 200 such units were purchased by the European Commission and delivered to hospitals of the member states. Despite being a relatively new technology, they have already demonstrated some potential in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission in the clinical setting.

The fundamental idea is similar to that of a consumer-grade machine: once activated, the robot navigates throughout the hospital environment and sanitizes the surrounding area. The solution is applied via fogging – the liquid is atomized into microscopic particles, which then settle on surrounding surfaces and eradicate viruses and bacteria.

Sanitation and disinfection robots offer several benefits to healthcare facilities. First, the described disinfection method is more efficient than manual cleaning, both in terms of sanitation and resource allocation. Simply put, the provider can achieve a higher level of safety while retaining human resources to assign other tasks. Robots can also be programmed to do the rounds at certain times to minimize delays. Finally, if the unit is integrated with the hospital’s data management system, it can send progress notifications, which will help determine the rooms that are available for admission, thereby reducing medical error rates.

Stationary Disinfection Gate

One of the major challenges of maintaining a safe environment is controlling the inbound sources of infection. SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to survive for hours and even days on clothes and even longer on hard surfaces. This means that the pathogen could be introduced into a disinfectant even after one has washed their hands. Of course, arranging a full decontamination procedure for every healthcare worker is hardly feasible in the busy clinical setting. However, this problem is actually not unique to hospitals and can be found in several sectors with high visitor traffic:

  • Education
  • Transportation
  • Hospitality
  • Industrial
  • Retail

One solution that is gaining in popularity is a mist disinfection gate – a stationary pass-through unit that streamlines the sanitation procedure. Like the disinfection robots mentioned above, the gate uses the fogging method, dispersing a mist of tiny disinfectant particles inside the compartment. This allows to thoroughly cover even the complex surfaces, such as fabric, with the disinfectant and eradicate all the pathogens. To make the process non-hazardous for humans, modern disinfection gates use a chemically selective substance that only affects bacteria and viruses, being completely safe for higher forms of life.

Aside from fogging, a COVID disinfection gate will be equipped with several additional safety measures like face mask detection, contactless body temperature measurement, and hand disinfection. On top of that, some models will collect data on the number of alerts, which can be used for managerial and administrative decisions. Thus, the gate enhances safety both directly and by contributing to the culture of safety on the organizational level.

Benefits of Smart Disinfection Solutions

The use of disinfection gates and robots has advantages both for patients and healthcare providers.

  1. Efficacy: The disinfection solutions for fogging are approved for use against the coronavirus and pose no risk to higher forms of life.
  2. Autonomy: Automation of routine procedures can help ease the workload of the facility’s staff and reallocate resources where needed the most.
  3. Operational Efficiency: The entire disinfection procedure in a sanitation passage takes less than 10 seconds, which can speed up the admission time and create fewer delays in general.
  4. Monitoring: The data collected by the unit can be used to analyze the dynamics of the outbreak, which can be useful for administrators and policymakers.

Moreover, it is reasonable to state that once this technology matures, we can expect even more advantages typical for smart solutions. For example, the feed from the units’ sensors could be integrated with other systems, making the monitoring more relevant and seamless.

Challenges of Implementing Novel Disinfection Solutions

As with any innovative technology, the widespread adoption of new disinfection solutions will most probably bring about some issues in the process. The main barrier is novelty – despite being intuitive and deployment-ready, the lack of familiarity will be likely to slow down the implementation on the organizational level.

The novelty also means that so far, research on the technology is scarce. In the absence of reliable data, it might be a while before healthcare authorities approve their use. The same can be said about compliance: depending on the regulatory environment, some facilities may not be able to use these devices. In other words, these solutions are still on the way typical for the products of innovation.

The Way Forward

Organizational safety entails many aspects ranging from planning and coordination to data analysis and strategic decision-making. Smart technology is already being used in many fields, including healthcare, to create safer environments. Now, with innovative disinfection solutions being implemented in hospitals around the world, providers can get access to methods that are both resource efficient and autonomous. Fewer potential vectors will also improve patient outcomes and save working hours for the straining infrastructure. The latter is particularly important as it addresses a long-standing problem that will probably outlast the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. Therefore, leveraging their potential can further boost our resilience to the pandemic and offer operational improvements even after the crisis subsides.