Drug-delivery robots deployed at Israel’s largest hospital to cut chemo wait

The robots will whirr along a system of underground tunnels, use regular corridors, and even call and ride elevators, to race drugs to patients as fast as possible

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

The robot developed by the Israeli startup Seamless Vision. (Courtesy Sheba Medical Center)
The robot developed by the Israeli startup Seamless Vision. (Courtesy Sheba Medical Center)

Robots are to start whirring around Israel’s largest hospital, racing drugs from the pharmacy to wards the moment they are needed.

From next month, as soon as Sheba Medical Center’s oncology department needs chemotherapy drugs, which must be prepared in the pharmacy, small Israeli-produced robots will take them straight to the nurses who ordered them, and help save patients hours of waiting time.

They will shuttle the drugs to departments utilizing a network of maintenance tunnels that already exists under the hospital, and also use corridors, walkways and elevators alongside staff and patients.

Sheba hopes to eventually expand the system, and have robots constantly making drug-delivery runs to all departments.

“This is very exciting as we’re moving from needing humans to transport drugs to a solution that uses robots to increase speed and efficiency,” Ronen Loebstein, director of clinical pharmacology at Sheba, told The Times of Israel.

This is the first deployment of robots by the Israeli startup Seamless Vision, which hopes to now start selling internationally.

The new robot in operation at Sheba Medical Center. (Courtesy)

The company’s CEO, Amir Nardimon, said that while some robotic drug delivery systems already exist, his is more advanced than others because the robots are able to operate even in the most crowded areas, and able to negotiate in outdoor spaces with relatively flat surfaces, as well as indoors.

“The robots have four wheels and an electrical engine,” he said. “The batteries provide six to eight hours of charge for continuous use, and the robots stop and charge themselves wirelessly between tasks.

“The compartment for the drugs is refrigerated at four degrees Celsius, and is secured, meaning it’s locked so drugs can’t be removed unless people have permission,” Nardimon added, “and alerts are generated if anyone tries to mess with the robot, meaning it won’t be ‘kidnapped.’”

The hospital’s chief pharmacist, Dr. Ande Lazarovich, said: “This will really make a difference to patients, as today the [golf cart] driver comes to take chemotherapy drugs once an hour, and if we prepare drugs one minute after he leaves, that patient will be waiting for another hour or more. But with the automated system, there will be several robots and they can be sent out as needed, reducing the time patients need to wait.”

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