Heliyon. 2023 Oct 13;9(10):e20757. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2023.e20757. eCollection 2023 Oct.
BACKGROUND: Healthcare workers face a risk of infection during aerosol-generating procedures, such as nasal swabbing. Robot-assisted nasopharyngeal sampling aims to minimize this risk and reduce stress for healthcare providers. However, its effectiveness and safety require validation.
METHODS: We conducted a controlled trial with 80 subjects at two teaching hospitals and compared robot-collected vs manually-collected nasopharyngeal swabs. The primary outcomes included specimen quality and success rate of nasopharyngeal swab collection. We also recorded the pain index, duration of the collection, and psychological stress using a post-collection questionnaire.
RESULTS: During the study period, from September 23 to October 27, 2020, 40 subjects were enrolled in both the robotic and manual groups. The cycle threshold (Ct) value for nasopharyngeal specimens was statistically higher in the robotic group compared to the manual group (30.9 vs 28.0, p < 0.01). Both groups had Ct values under 35, indicating good quality specimens. In the robotic group, 3 out of 40 subjects required a second attempt at specimen collection, resulting in a success rate of 92.5 %. Further, although the pain levels were lower in the robotic group, the difference was not statistically significant (2.8 vs 3.6, p = 0.07). The manual group had a shorter sampling time, which was 29 s (201 vs 29, p < 0.05). However, when factoring in the time needed to put on personal protective equipment, the average time for the manual group increased to 251 s (201 vs 251, p < 0.05). Participants’ questionnaire results show comparable psychological stress in both groups. Medical staff expressed that using a robot would reduce their psychological stress.
CONCLUSIONS: We propose a safe and effective robotic technology for collecting nasopharyngeal specimens without face-to-face contact, which may reduce the stress of physicians and nurses. This technology can also be optimized for efficiency, making it useful in situations where droplet-transmitted infectious diseases are a concern.