Smart pump technology reduces errors and saves lives

October 13, 2008

Hospitals throughout California are embracing smart pump technology as a way to reduce error and save lives. Among them are The Little Company of Mary (Torrance), Torrance Memorial Medical Center, and the Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center in Harbor City.

Key Points

Every year, the pharmacy industry sees a product introduced that becomes the year's hottest development. This year it's the "smart pump." In Torrance, Calif., the Little Company of Mary Hospital is using it to help make human error less likely.

No hospital is completely without incidents of medical mix-up, accidental overdose, and adverse drug reaction, but their frequency is difficult to track. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies has indicated that more than 7,000 deaths per year are due to medication errors alone. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the number of serious drug mistakes - along with the number of deaths associated with adverse drug events - more than doubled from 1998 to 2005. A study published this past spring by the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality showed that roughly one in 15 hospitalized children is harmed by medicine mix-ups, accidental overdoses and bad drug reactions. That amounts to 7.3 percent of hospitalized children, or 540,000 children each year.

The need to address the causes of these events has become increasingly evident to the public and healthcare providers in recent years. In one approach to the problem, technology, combined with a strong commitment to patient safety, is helping to make such occurrences not only detectable, but preventable.

"The bottom line is that people want to know they're going to be safe when they come to a hospital," said Michael Hunn, the hospital's chief executive. "These technologies and this investment demonstrate our commitment to doing all we can to keep our community safe."

"In the past, errors made were often undetected, and what's really great about this technology is that for the first time we're not only able to prevent, but determine and catch them," said Diane Bassett, spokeswoman for the hospital.

The system, estimated by the hospital to be worth approximately $2.5 million, includes some of the latest technology, such as the smart pump manufactured by Hospira, which prevents nurses from programming incorrect dosages into intravenous machines. The system also includes a medication dispenser and a new bar-coding system, both of which are manufactured by Innovation.

The machine in the pharmacy at Little Company of Mary stores 100 of the medications filled most often by the hospital's pharmacy. When the medications arrive, they are scanned, then placed in the machine and sorted into the correct drawer. It's all done with very little human handling.

The hospital is also the only one in the South Bay area to provide protection to patients throughout the entire hospital who receive their drugs intravenously, according to hospital officials. Nurses scan the drug's bar code at the pump to ensure that the correct drug is being provided. The pump is programmed for dosage and speed of intravenous delivery according to calculations based on the patient's body weight and other factors.