It’s only been a few months since Omkar Kulkarni onboarded a new worker, Moxi, to assist the pharmacy technicians at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) with some of their day-to-day functions, and he’s already very impressed.
“Moxi can work 24 hours a day,” says Kulkarni, chief digital transformation officer and chief innovation officer at CHLA. “To find someone who works all day and delivers that level of service is really hard to do.”
What sets Kulkarni’s new team member apart (aside from outstanding stamina): Moxi is a robot.
The benefits of health care robots
CHLA’s robotic journey began in 2019 when Kulkarni’s team reached across the organization seeking to identify operational pain points for its employees. The hospital’s pharmacy director pointed out the inefficiencies of having pharmacy technicians walking medications across CHLA’s campus and proposed using a specially designed health care robot assistant for this task.
Enter Moxi, a 4-foot-tall, 300-pound robot that travels between CHLA’s pharmacy and patient floors fulfilling medication requests. In its first two months in service, Moxi travelled more than 35 miles and saved hospital staffers 426 hours—time they were able to spend on higher-level tasks.
Kulkarni says the hospital’s lease agreement with Diligent Robotics for its two Moxi robots amounts to a a per-hour cost lower than full-time employees performing the same duties—so CHLA is seeing an immediate return on its financial investment. And that ROI doesn’t take into account the message it sends to the hospital’s staff members.
“This is a great example of how we are ensuring our team members are able to do their best work at the top of their skillset,” Kulkarni says. “Our nursing leaders and pharmacy team are very appreciative that we're investing in this kind of technology.”
The investment is paying off with patients and their families as well, as Moxi rapidly becomes a fixture of CHLA’s culture. “Here’s this giant robot toy that moves and beeps and is kind of a sci-fi thing running around the hospital—it’s bringing joy to these kids, which is exciting to see,” Kulkarni says. “That's a secondary value in a sense, but it's really important for us and what we do as a children's hospital in that it provides a level of distraction or escape for the patients.”
Future uses of health care robots
CHLA is still in the early stages of understanding Moxi’s capabilities and how best to deploy the robots to further ease staff workload burdens. In assessing the broader pediatric health care landscape, Kulkarni foresees a larger role for robot technology on the horizon.
“We're always going to have a limited amount of highly qualified, highly skilled people who can provide important clinical care for our patients,” Kulkarni says. “And there’s always going to be a lot of kids who need to be seen and not enough people to take care of them—so whether it’s robots or other forms of automation, we’ve got to figure out ways to leverage technology to bridge the gap.”