A hospital has revolutionised the way it stocks and dispenses drugs with the aid of a state-of-the-art “robotic pharmacist”.
The £220,000 device at Edith Cavell Hospital, in Bretton, Peterborough, speeds up the process of issuing medication to patients by using its three robotically-controlled arms to fill a box for a ward round in just three minutes.
It also takes just 10 seconds for an item to leave the robot and arrive in the outpatients’ dispensary area.
The robot, which restocks itself overnight, currently dispenses 80% of patients’ medication as well as most of the stock items for wards and departments.
Pharmacy operations services manager Deborah Parsonage said it had increased the speed with which prescriptions could be dispensed. She believes employing the device meant less staff would be needed for dispensing, allowing them to be sent to parts of the hospital that needed them more.
Although all medicines are double-checked by humans, the robot will reduce prescription errors, while allowing pharmacy staff to spend more time with patients informing them about their different drugs.
The robotic device can be seen in a number of other hospitals around the UK, though Peterborough is believed to be one of the first with a three-armed robot.
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“There are many hospital’s around the UK now operating with a fully automated dispensing system. Almost every Welsh trust has a robot installed in their pharmacy department. We have been operating with a robot for the past year and we have found the change very beneficial. It speeds up the dispensing process, has allowed pharmacy services to move out to ward level and most importantly has improved patient safety by greatly reducing the risk of picking errors. It has also allowed us to re-design our dispensary layout and work flows in line with the NPSA design for patient saftey document on the design of the dispensing environment. I think automation is an extremely valuable addition to pharmacy, and it is essential to the progression of pharmacy dispensing services. I do not see how they can be considered a threat to hospital pharmacists. The robot is there merely to perform a supply function. It cannot deliver the specialist knowledge of medicines that only a pharmacist can supply. By moving the pharmacist role out of the dispensary and out on to the ward it is placing the pharmacist where their specialist skills can be best utilised.” – Anonymous, Wales, UK
“No. We must look at this robot as an aid to our work, not as a threat. Pharmacists will always be the responsible professional in medicine distribution. This robot must be looked at in the same ways that automatic pumps are for TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) or as the software is for cytotoxic preparation.” – Carla, Portugal
“Robotics is an asset to hospital pharmacy as it aids in picking and dispensing pharmaceuticals. It also helps in reducing the inventory of stock held thus reducing costs, with some hospitals combining their store and dispensary stock into one location within the robot. This is only possible with the greater efficiency in maintaining and monitoring stock levels that a robot offers. Robots release pharmacists and technicians to focus on clinical skills and medicines management” – Ainsley, London, UK
“The current abilities of robots are restricted to those actions which would normally be carried out by a pharmacy assistant. They can improve the productivity of a dispenser (normally a technician or accredited assistant) but cannot currently replace them. This does mean more work can potentially be done with less staff so it may be a threat in that sense though not currently to pharmacists. There is potential for some technical aspects such as product choice to be further automated which could lead to a situation where the only staff required within a pharmacy department would be those attending on the robot. This should not be a threat to pharmacists or to technicians carrying out an extended role, but could lead to a lessened requirement for pharmacy assistants. In the future I would expect ‘expert systems’ to be developed which could potentially take over much of the pharmacists role. Vigilance is needed by leaders of the profession to ensure these are seen as an aid to pharmacists work, not a substitute.” – Grenville Weston, East Sussex Hospitals