Tablet recognition for safe dispensing…why not?

I recently spied a Twitter post regarding a “pill geometry” database. The idea of a database that houses the geometry of prescription tablets piqued my interest and sent my brain into overdrive. I don’t think that was the intention of the Twitter post, but it jump started by brain nonetheless.

My thoughts ran wild for a system that utilizes computerized recognition of tablets to ensure proper dispensing. As you may or may not be aware our facility utilizes an automated tablet packager from Talyst (AutoPack) to unit-dose and barcode our bulk tablets. When medications are loaded into a canister we rely on a pharmacist’s eyes and a barcode scan to ensure that the right medication ends up in the right canister (actually works out quite well). Now imagine inserting a system that verifies the tablet’s size, shape, weight, color and imprint code to further validate that the contents of the canister are correct. You have now significantly decreased your risk for error.

So I fired up my trusty Google search engine, performed a search for “pill geometry” and found this. Someone already had the idea, but I could not find any mention of its use in practice. The Veterans Administration (VA) uses a system that photographs the tablets in the bottle prior to dispensing so a pharmacist can compare it against a stock photograph of the medication, but nothing that actually scans the tablet for proper specifications.

The idea must be viable as I found reference to similar systems being used in the automotive industry to recognize and remove defective bolts from production. Use in the acute care pharmacy setting could have a significant impact not only on patient safety, but on pharmacist’s time as well. Pharmacists have been shown to improve patient outcomes and decrease cost when they are out of the pharmacy and at the bed side. A system of automated tablet verification could, in theory, get pharmacists out of the pharmacy and up on the floor where they belong. This is especially true in states like California that allow one pharmacy technician to check the work of another pharmacy technician (tech-check-tech).

Just a thought.

2 thoughts on “Tablet recognition for safe dispensing…why not?”

  1. I saw some stuff in Europe that had a visual recognition system tied into looking at packets AFTER they had been dispensed (multi-dose) to count the number of pills in the packet and make sure they were roughly the right shape and size – if the VRE found an error, it would apply a small flag label to alert a pharmacist to check the packet. If I can find a link to the software provider, I will post. I remember at the time that it was VERY EXPENSIVE – a 50K add-on to the packager, I think.

  2. At Pelco we apply analytics to our video systems to identify people and other objects, even license plates. You could go a long way using a photo to id the shape and color.

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