GE Global Research and GE Healthcare will work with the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop prototype technology to automate surgical tool packaging, delivery and sterilization.

The goal is a system “capable of locating, sorting, delivering and sterilizing surgical tools with little oversight,” potentially saving hospitals billions of dollars, according to GE. “A mash up of technology, including robotic systems, RFID and computer vision will form the backbone of the automated system. Tools such as clamps and scalpels will be provided a unique ID so that they are readily identifiable by various robotic components. The prototype system will perform various tasks, including kitting of surgical tools, movement throughout the sterilization process, and transport to and from the operating theater ensuring the correct tools are in the right place, at the right time, and in sterile and working order.”

GE envisions adapting technologies used for years to automate manufacturing processes in industrial settings to work in hospitals. The system could reduce surgical infections, improve efficiency of operating room scheduling, increase hospital throughput from reduction of set-up and room turnaround times, and free up hospital personnel for other tasks. A video of the initiative is available here.

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