Patient safety driving pharmacy automation

August 21, 2006

Back in the mid-1990s it was technology that drove the market; now it's the customers who are driving the technology. In the new climate, when health systems and community pharmacies plot their technology strategy, reducing medical and medication errors is their primary focus.

Back in the mid-1990s it was technology that drove the market; now it's the customers who are driving the technology. In the new climate, when health systems and community pharmacies plot their technology strategy, reducing medical and medication errors is their primary focus.

"It's all about focus," said James Torina, president and CEO of Bellevue, Wash.-based Talyst. "We think that there are still many innovations that can be brought to this market space, so we will ... stay focused in central pharmacy," said Torina.

At the other end of the spectrum, industry giant McKesson contends that it can offer customers not only a broad product line but also compete with the niche specialty players. "Our strategy is to provide features that are functionally superior for each of our solutions while still giving customers the benefits that integration across those different products can bring," said James Longo, product manager, central pharmacy products, McKesson Provider Technologies Automated Solutions, Pittsburgh.

Bar code versus cabinets

Hospital pharmacies utilize a variety of hardware solutions-from automated dispensing cabinets, to robots, to mobile carts. But the real focal point and growth area is in bar-code point of care [BPOC].

Driven by a heightened focus on preventing medication errors, BPOC has surpassed computer physician order entry (CPOE) as the fastest-growing technology, according to the HealthCare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS). "BPOC is more widespread than CPOE," said Joyce Sensmeier, VP of informatics at HIMSS.

Bedside bar-coding addresses the issue of patient safety at the point of care where the error rate tends to run high. "I predict that before 2010, 80% of the hospitals in the U.S. with 100 beds or more are going to be scanning," said Neuenschwander.

Some industry analysts believe that as BPOC gains ground, new questions surface, such as, Why do you need all the expensive profiles software on automated dispensing cabinets? "While I believe cabinets are here to stay," said Neuenschwander, "BPOC does uproot previous understanding of and commitment to long unquestioned distribution and dispensing processes."

Why cabinets? According to James Baker, R.Ph., director of marketing for Cardinal Health's Pyxis Products, cabinets [or what Cardinal describes as profiled automation dispensing machines] are vital for drug use and dispensing control as well as inventory management. "They also provide timely information to the caregiver before he or she reaches the patient's bedside." Baker added that cabinets provide pharmacists with the ability to gather information related to the drug- use and drug utilization review process.

Hybrids are expanding

"I see a lot of hospitals moving toward a hybrid," said Ben Hinnen, director of the automated drug management systems business unit for Denver-based Swisslog.