Robotic instruments are nearly impossible to clean completely, study shows

Removing all contamination from robotic surgical instruments, even after cleaning multiple times, is close to impossible, according to a study in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

Researchers examined 132 robotic and ordinary instruments over a 21-month period. They collected the instruments immediately after use to determine the level of contamination. The researchers used in-house cleaning methods, including manual procedures with ultrasonication following the manufacturers' instructions.

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Robotic instruments, with their complex structures, have a greater protein residue and lower cleaning efficacy as compared to conventional tools, the study found. The cleanings were 97.6 percent effective for robotic instruments and 99.1 percent effective for ordinary instruments.

The study authors suggest establishing new cleaning standards that include repeatedly measuring residual protein, instead of only measuring contamination levels once after cleaning.

"These instruments are wonderful tools that allow surgeons to operate with care; but completely decontaminating them has been a challenge for hospitals," Yuhei Saito, RN, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the University of Tokyo Hospital. "By implementing new cleaning procedures using repeated measurements of the level of contamination on an instrument more than once, we could potentially save many patients from future infections."

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