Robots added to nursing staff at Fort Worth hospital



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Posted on August 2, 2011 at 7:35 PM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 2 at 10:47 PM

FORT WORTH — TUG is a bilingual robot, giving nurses like Brooke Brumley a little extra help at Texas Health Southwest Hospital in Fort Worth.

"We're going to do the pharmacy," she explained. "We're just going to click here, and I do 'pharmacy return,' hit 'go' — and it goes."

TUG runs errands like getting meals, medications and equipment, traveling up and down elevators and through long corridors — all unattended. But once it reaches its destination, real live nurses take over.

"We still have the face-to-face interaction," said nursing director Gretchen Hunt. "What we are removing is the lost time looking for supplies, medication, equipment."

"I've wasted a lot of time going back and forth to pharmacy to get fluids," Brumley added.

One of the hospital's five TUGs will do the work for Brumley as part of a pilot program. Her full-time job now is to monitor the activity of the TUGs for all the nurses.

Cameras installed on each robot help Brumley determine if the device ever gets off track or stuck.

"If it does have something in the way, it will stop and look around," Hunt said. "It has 'whiskers' that look around to re-direct itself and return to the path it was designated on."

The hospital estimates each TUG is equal to hiring three nurses, but it comes at cost of just one.

"It's making us more efficient and relieving us of duties that are time-consuming that make us inefficient," Hunt said.

For now, the technology being used on just one floor at the hospital, but once the kinks are ironed out, the program could spread throughout the hospital — adding extra robot power to this staff.

"The goal is not to downsize people," Hunt emphasized. "The goal is to have what our patients need in a timely manner.