Automated dispensing, robots tapped to improve patient safety

July 14, 2008

This article discusses patient safety and the rise of automatic dispensing technology and robotics.

Robotics, workflow, document scanning at intake, electronic prescriptions, pill imaging, and bar coding all comprise the makeup of today's modern, technology-driven pharmacy. So how does this new technology reduce drug errors and improve patient safety?

Many vendors market their products by promoting patient safety, noting that automation significantly reduces the chances of drug error. And perhaps no other piece of pharmacy technology is scrutinized for patient safety more than automated drug dispensing machines (ADDMs).

Concerns with patient safety and a mission to improve it were the driving reasons that Shawnee Mission, Kansas-based IT vendor ScriptPro got into the automated dispensing field, according to Michael Coughlin, president and CEO. "We learned from our pharmacy industry focus groups in the mid-'90s just how many problems pharmacists were experiencing with regard to medication errors." As such, the company began the development of its current product offerings, which includes the SP series, the company's line of robotic dispensing systems.

Justifying robotics

Robotics has overall "helped pharmacies do a better job of customer service and achieve higher customer satisfaction," noted Coughlin. "The most fundamental step a pharmacy can take to move up the scale on customer service is to put in robotics because there is no reason for pharmacists to be tied up handling products. They need to be focused on the patient-the safety of the patient and the outcome-so the robot is the biggest shot in the arm you can give them to do that."

Hy-Vee Pharmacy, in Muscatine, Iowa, for example, began using ScriptPro's SP 200-the company's line of pharmacy robotic solutions-to manage its growing workload and allow more time for pharmacist-patient consults. The system "took the stress out of our pharmacy workflow," explained Kasey O'Kelly, store director. "We could not keep up with the prescription volume and were always behind-sometimes by two hours. With the SP 200 counting, filling, and labeling 50% of the prescriptions, the customer's order is ready about 30 minutes after it is phoned in. Our volume has increased because the employees are less stressed and happy and that rubs off on our customers."