Dispensing robots began rolling out to retail and ambulatory care pharmacies in the 1990s.
Dispensing robots began rolling out to retail and ambulatory care pharmacies in the 1990s. The idea was to automate dispensing to save time and reduce human-caused errors. Robots generally meet those goals; however, automation also introduces new opportunities for error.
The Upsides: Speed
Robots are faster than humans. Different robots offer different technologies and different fill rates, but a typical community pharmacy robot from SciptPro can fill up to 125 prescriptions per hour.
The Upsides: Safety
To the human eye, one white pill looks a lot like any other white pill and it is all too easy to count four pills or six pills, instead of five. Robots don’t mix up different formulations or make counting errors.
The Upsides: Security
Medications are locked inside the robot and access is limited to specific staff with positive identification. Thus, opportunities for diversion or human error are reduced.
The Upsides: Service
Robots typically reduce fill times and wait times, which can improve service levels and customer satisfaction. Reducing human time in dispensing also frees up pharmacists and technicians to spend more time with patients, provide additional non-RX services, and expand areas such as immunizations, health screening, and diagnostic testing.
The Downsides: GIGO
Robots are computers. If a human inputs the wrong information, fills a cell with the wrong medication, or makes some other mistake, safety is compromised.
The Downsides: Variety
There is little standardization across automation systems, which can create confusion if the pharmacy switches vendors or brings in a staffer familiar with a different system.
The Downsides: Downtime
All mechanical devices can break down, including dispensing robots. It doesn’t happen often if units are maintained and serviced regularly, but the pharmacy needs a backup plan to work with if there is an equipment failure.
The Downsides: Glitches
Software failures happen with any computer-based technology. Updates should be tested locally before they are installed into the whole system.