Stanford's new tech-laden hospital includes pill-picking robots

Jon Fingas
Associate Editor
Stanford Medicine

Technology only seems to find its way into hospitals in fits and starts. Stanford, however, is about to find out what happens when you build a tech-oriented hospital from the ground up. The university has opened a new hospital in Stanford Health Care's campus that aims to be as capable and connected as the phone in your pocket. You can control entertainment lighting and climate from a pad near your bed, while an updated MyHealth mobile app can help you contact a physician or guide you through the hospital's halls. However, the sheer automation of the hospital may be its real highlight.

The pharmacy will include robots that pick pills and pack them in backs, with other robots delivering them to dispensing stations. This frees up the humans for more involved tasks. Another 23 automated guided vehicles, meanwhile, help with delivering laundry and taking out the trash. Sensors track both equipment and staff in real time to keep tabs on inventory. Doctors and nurses alike can monitor multiple patients from one location (with alerts going directly to locked-down mobile devices), while MRI scanners and other gear will integrate with each other.

Stanford told the Wall Street Journal that the hospital is designed to be upgrade-friendly. It might not need an overhaul just to accommodate new tech. The infrastructure could move to 5G wireless if necessary, for instance. An upcoming test will use an AI system with depth and thermal sensors to boost patient safety.

There are questions about the price of all this tech. The new facility cost $2.1 billion to make. That's a lot even for a school like Stanford, and there's no guarantee the tech will work as smoothly as promised. Stanford Health Care CIO Eric Yablonka stressed that this wasn't a case of "tech for tech's sake," however, and believed that the the sheer amount of automation could improve productivity for (frequently overworked) hospital employees. The university does plan to study the care quality and financial effectiveness of the hospital, though, so it could serve as a useful test case for both Stanford and other hospitals.