UV Light Robots Cut C. Difficile Transmission by 25%, Study Finds

Hospital saves between $350,000 and $1.5 million annually with no-touch devices

Robots are capable of all sorts of tasks to help treat cancer: They connect oncologists to patients remotely, make incisions, staple them shut, deliver “nano” therapies—and clean rooms. New research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has found that ultraviolet (UV) robots helped reduce the transmission of Clostridium difficile among cancer inpatients––mostly blood cancer patients, a group more vulnerable to hospital-acquired infections––by 25%.

The no-touch device, used after patients with C. difficile or contact precautions were discharged from the hospital, also resulted in substantial health care savings, estimated at between $350,000 and $1.5 million annually.

The findings were published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

Several new cleaning tactics—in addition to the scrubbing, mopping, spraying, and wiping performed by environmental services (ES) professionals—have been implemented at hospitals across the United States to help reduce the transmission of such infections, but which new methods are the most effective and practical has remained unclear.

UV robots flash UV lights across the room to lock onto the DNA of organisms and kill them.

“There weren’t a lot of studies showing the efficacy of UV lights to clean hospital rooms,” said investigator David Pegues, MD. “These results help fill that gap. This is a cost-saving measure that showed a sizeable reduction in infections for a high-risk group of patients.”

The authors found that using a UV germicidal irradiation robot after a room cleaning by ES professionals not only reduced the number of infections in cancer patients compared with the previous year without a robot, but did so without adversely affecting room turn-around time. They also found that infections increased by 16% on units without the robot during the study period.

Spores formed by C. difficile are resistant to many disinfectants and can persist in the hospital environment for months. Approximately 500,000 Americans contract C. difficile infections every year while in hospitals, and nearly 15,000 die from these infections. Cancer patients, whose immune systems may be compromised by stem-cell transplants and/or chemotherapy, are more susceptible to infections compared with other inpatients.

For the new study, the researchers compared C. difficile rates from 2013 with rates in 2014, when the robot was deployed. The majority of the patients on these oncology floors were being treating for blood cancers, such as leukemia and multiple myeloma.

During 2014, the researchers used the UV robot for 21% of all patient discharges (542 out of 2,569 total patient discharges) on three study units (approximately 10 deployments for a week). After room cleaning by EV professionals, the robot was deployed for two eight-minute cycles on either side of the patient’s bed, with the bathroom door left open.

The researchers compared the rates of C. difficile and found a 25% reduction in cases during the 52-week intervention period compared with the baseline period (2013). There were 87 cases of C. difficile infection on the study units in 2013 and 66 in 2014.

Some modalities, such as the hydrogen peroxide vapor system, can take up to two hours. The mean clean time with UV robots was approximately 36 minutes. Although no additional EV staff was used during the evaluation, improving and spreading the use of UV light for disinfection requires hiring additional staff.

Clorox Healthcare provided the Optimum-UV system used in the study.

Source: Perelman School of Medicine; October 6, 2016.