ICBioethics Blog 

Health Technology Update: My Robotic Pharmacy

Written by: Aimee Zellers

There are a multitude of errors that can occur from the time the doctor writes a prescription until the patient takes the medication. There can be errors in procuring the drug, prescribing it, dispensing it, administering it, and monitoring its impact. According to the Institutes of Medicine, when all errors are taken into account, “a hospital patient can expect on average to be subjected to more than one medication error each day.” Let that sink in for a second, one error per hospital patient, per day. Obviously error rates greatly vary per institution, but still, that is a troubling statistic. Technology can help eliminate life and death errors surrounding medication.

Machines rather than human are now filling prescriptions in some hospitals. This gives some physician added confidence, because while pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are very skilled, they are still humans and will occasionally make a mistake. No one is perfect. Robotic pharmacies hit the clinical scene just a few years ago, and are slowly gaining popularity. The largest obstacle is the sheer cost of the system. University of California San Francisco has one of these systems at the cost of around 7 million dollars.

ROBOT-Rx® is an automated medication dispensing system with three important outcomes. First, it improves patient safety by eliminating human error in the filling and administration of medication. Second, it improves process efficiency by reducing pharmacy labor hours which in turn allows pharmacists to spend more time in the hospital focusing on drug therapy. Third, it lowers drug inventory which helps right-size medication cost and expenditures. This device automates the following processes: medication storage, selection, return, restock, and crediting. This can account for up to 90% of the daily medication volume requirements of a hospital. According to the manufacturer’s website, there are number of important benefits that can be attributed to ROBOT-Rx including: increases medication filling accuracy to 99.9%; cuts pharmacist checking labor by 90%; reduces technician labor by 72%; cuts missing medications by 92%; trims inventory by 10-20%; and lowers expired medication costs by 54%. These statistics are astounding. When considering the rate of medication errors in hospitals it is a wonder why more hospitals aren’t turning to these systems more quickly, despite the cost.

This presents an interesting ethical dilemma. We must be prudent in matters concerning healthcare costs and expenditures; however, we must also promote patient safety. So how do we balance purchasing an expensive system against the overall safety of each patient? Hopefully as more of these systems are developed, the prices will drop and give hospitals on a tight budget access to this type of technology.


Check out ROBOT-Rx:

Mitch GennusoComment