SPARTANBURG, South Carolina – A robot carries a tray of medications and slowly moves along the hallway of Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. It responds to certain commands, especially when getting on the elevator.

A reply of "no" prompts the mechanized construct to wait and board another elevator in the operating room section of the hospital that has ambient light, blue rooms and automatic sliding metal doors that make a "pfft" and shunting noise when closed.

A doctor operates on a patient, guiding the da Vinci Surgical System from a separate room, in a setting that is practically soundproof.

It looks like something straight out of a science fiction movie and not the typical hospital that one would expect. No tan walls or doors that are pushed open.

"Take a good look at what the future of operating rooms looks like," Ingo Angermier, president/CEO of Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, said during a tour of the hospital one day last week.

The futuristic design is due largely to Maquet (Bridgewater, New Jersey), a company that says it has "revolutionized" operating rooms and hospitals through its VARIOP design.

The company was founded in 1838 in Heidelberg, Germany, and has primarily designed more than 2,000 OR facilities in Europe. Spartanburg Regional Healthcare marks the first hospital in the U.S. to undergo this design. Part of the hesitation in having VARIOP setups in this country revolve around cumbersome building codes in the U.S. and inspections.

Here's a rundown of the VARIOP design.

The rooms range between 568 square feet and just above 800 square feet. The walls are made with stainless steel so as to reduce contamination.

"One of the biggest problems hospitals have is when a table strikes the wall and there is chipped paint," Mary Jane Jennings, vice president for perioperative and quality services at Spartanburg Regional, told Medical Device Daily. "That spot needs to be repainted and the room needs to be shut down because you can't have loose particles floating in the air in there. It can contaminate the room."

And when said room is contaminated, downtime in cleaning it can be days and seriously impede the hospital's ability to help patients.

VARIOP further reduces contamination by having panels that are designed without gaps, are easily cleaned and constructed of materials that can be safely used with hospital disinfection fluids and detergents. The wall panels have a closed-cell gasket on all four edges, which bonds with the VARIOP substructure to create a seal between the inside of the theater and the wall cavity.

"We really plan to track our infection rates now that we have the VARIOP design," said Tom Jennings, former vice president of planning at Spartanburg Regional Medical. "We will also plan to track our turnover rates."

Jennings served on the committee to help design the VARIOP system for the hospital. "Each hospital has its own culture," he said. "Hopefully we can be the model."

VARIOP uses sliding doors that produce much less turbulence than swinging doors, and create a perfect seal when closed. A two-stage door-opening system reduces air movement even further, The doors open halfway for staff access and fully for patient access. According to Maquet, this helps cut back on the amount of germs and "outside influences" that enter the operating room.

The wall system is prefabricated, which means its framework is made up of profiled floor rails, vertical supports and ceiling rails, which can be configured to adapt to both new construction as well as re-modeling projects.

The process of designing the OR started eight years ago and cost a little more than $13.5 million. Construction started nearly a year ago, with 12 VARIOP operating rooms having gone online and an additional five to be completed in the near future.

Maquet said that while this is its first VARIOP installation in the U.S., it definitely won't be the last.

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