Futuristic no longer, robotic technology has made serious inroads in healthcare delivery. Adoption of robotics ranging from automated delivery systems serving pharmacy and supplies to robotic surgery systems has nearly doubled over the past two years, David Gillespie, SSOE Group architect and associate told an audience at the HEALTHCARE DESIGN Conference in Phoenix.

Currently, costs for robotic surgery procedures are within a couple thousand dollars of routine traditional surgeries. The market is dominated by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci Surgical System, which owns about one-third of the market. However, a number of competitors are in the Food and Drug Administration approval process pipeline—and as they enter the market, purchase prices will drop, said Gillespie, making the systems far more attractive to surgical centers.

Improved clinical outcomes are expected to drive adoptions as patients having robotic microsurgery experience less blood loss, have shorter lengths of stay, and have quicker returns to activities of daily life. Currently, the procedures are used most often for hysterectomies and for prostrate surgery, but soft tissue surgeries are the sweet spot, says Gillespie. Future growth if forecast in thoracic, ear/nose/throat, and general surgery.

This will create a challenge for facility managers and architects charged with accommodating the robotic system. Space is a major consideration as surgical systems take more space in procedure and operating rooms (OR), as well as in storage and maintenance areas. ORs typically require a 20 percent bump in size to accommodate robotic systems, but large da Vinci equipment can bump room sizes 50 percent. In addition, robotic surgeries take about 10 to 15 percent longer due to time necessary to turn around the room--a serious consideration in scheduling and revenues.

In addition to surgical centers, pharmacy, physical therapy and home-based care are also expected to see growth of robotics in care deliver and monitoring. The market for robotics in physical therapy is taking off, says Gillespie. The equipment costs less, is easier to deploy, and can follow the patient into the home where data can be collected and communicated back to caregivers. Not surprisingly, professional athletes are major backers in this market sector.

At this time, more than one third of hospitals in North America use a robot for automated medication processing. And the payoff is significant. One medical center using a robot increased its dispensing accuracy to 99.9 percent and cut cart fill times. St. Joseph’s Hospital in Savannah, Georgia reports saving $233,000 yearly with its robot.

But Gillespie warns that space is not the only consideration when adopting robotic technology. A robust infrastructure is essential. “The hospital infrastructure should be just like the plumbing in your house—dependable,” he says. Not only that, it must be able to support high speed data transfer rates.

“Architects need to be planning for better connectivity and technology infrastructure,” said Gillespie. “Healthcare is increasing its use of medical robots and savings will drive more growth, he adds. As a result, the forecast for healthcare data communication is robust. Facilities need to prepare for robots with additional bandwidth, network connectivity, security and system integration.”

Facility managers, architects, and chief information offices must also make plans to support the increased demands for cooling and data redundancy for the data center, but also for security.

The adoption or robotic technology is no longer a matter of ‘if.’ it is a matter of how soon. And with demand, comes the question of how to integrate the systems into the existing physical facility.