Time to accept pharmacy robotics as our friend and ally

As the word “robot” passes its 90th birthday1 – introduced by Karel Capek in his play R.U.R. (Tossums’s Universal Robots) in January 1921 – it’s become obvious that robotics has not only captured the imagination of geeks everywhere, but has become a point of interest in many industries including healthcare.

Late last year ASHP began pushing the idea of a new pharmacy practice model, PPMI. The movement was a hot topic for a while, but seems to have lost a lot of steam recently – “Hence the name: movement. It moves a certain distance, then it stops, you see? A revolution gets its name by always coming back around in your face” (Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege 1992) – Anyway, when the PPMI movement was still going strong many important people in the pharmacy world struggled with the best way to approach a new pharmacy practice model. Many believe, and rightly so, that the best way for pharmacists to reinvent themselves is to become the cornerstone of a more robust patient care model. After careful consideration I believe the best hope for developing such as model will be to rely heavily on pharmacy robotics to handle much of the repetitive dispensing duties now handled by pharmacist on a day to day bases. You know, free up the pharmacists. It’s not a new concept, but one that seems to escape us.

Obviously it will take some time to develop robotics to the point where it will be effective in such a system, and it certainly won’t be cheap, and pharmacists will have to fight with state boards of  pharmacy to accept it, and pharmacy administrators will have to work closely with their hospitals to develop such a systems, and someone’s going to have to be brave enough to step up to the plate and get stated, and so on and so forth. In other words it’s going to be hard and it won’t happen overnight.

Who’s up for a little project? For now let’s just take a quick look at some of the things that lead me to believe robotics is worth another look as a potential solution.

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Cool Technology for Pharmacy – Sharp SX Bagger

Some items in a pharmacy are simply difficult to bar-code. Perhaps they’re too small, have an awkward shape or their surface won’t accommodate ink or an adhesive. The problem creates some interesting workarounds, and not always for the better.

One solution is to individually package each item and place the drug information and a bar-code on the outside of the packaging material; overwrapping, if you will. I’ve never been a big fan of overwrapping items because it can be time consuming and cumbersome. Today I ran across a machine that I think offers a genuine option for medications that are difficult to bar-code.
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The next big thing in pharmacy informatics? Hint: IDK

RxInformatics: “The following was a list serv question from Monica Puebla, PharmD, MBA, BCPS for a HIS course. Here is my response to the Question. I would add State Boards of Pharmacy to the list of those to present this as well.

“If you were given the opportunity to present to your DOP, VP and CFO a project that you deem would have the greatest impact on the pharmacy department as well as the health-system in general from any point of view, clinical, financial, operational, without regards to costs, what would it be?””

John’s response was to “Study under what circumstances pharmacist order review (perfection) could be taken over by automated clinical decision support while increasing quality and safety” in addition to including a nice list of references related to ‘perfection’ (listed at the bottom of this post). I highly recommend looking at the references John provides because they’re informative and enlightening. You can also read more about the ‘perfection’ idea at one of John’s older posts here. It’s amazing that this discussion has been going on for well over a year and to the best of my knowledge has yet to make much headway.
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Going cartless

I spent some time recently speaking with the director of pharmacy (DOP) from a large acute care facility about operations and various dispensing models. In this particular instance, the hospital utilizes a cartfill model, decentralized pharmacists in satellites to handle first doses, batched IV’s and automated dispensing cabinets for pain meds and other “PRN” medications.

At one point the conversation drifted toward a discussion of using a cartless dispensing model. The DOP wasn’t a fan. The reason cited was a fear that utilizing automated dispensing cabinets in a cartless model would create a workflow logjam in the pharmacy as the entire day would be dedicated to “massive ADC [automated dispensing cabinet] fills”. I understand the thought process, but have found through experience that this simply isn’t true. In a well-constructed workflow a cartless model is quite efficient.
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“What’d I miss?” – Week of January 9, 2011

As usual there were a lot of things that happened during the week, and not all of it was pharmacy or technology related. Here’s a quick look at some of the stuff I found interesting.
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To iPhone, or not to iPhone: on Verizon is the question

I saw an article in this mornings USA Today regarding the impending availability of the iPhone on Verizon. Of course this isn’t really news as “the event” was inevitable. The rumor has been active for years now and Android has been chipping away at Apple’s dominance in the smartphone market for quite some time.

Now that the iPhone is available on Verizon, the question everyone will be asking themselves is “should I dump my current Verizon device and move to the iPhone?” It’s a good question and I’m sure many, many people will do it. Then again, I assume many ex-Verizon-switched-because-of-the-iPhone-but-now-I’m-unhappy-with-AT&T customers will simply switch back.
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UA College of Pharmacy professor promotes pharmacists in direct patient care

I received my normal ASHP NewsLink via email today and found this interesting little tid-bit: “Public Television Station Features Research on Value of Pharmacists - Watch pharmacist researcher Marie Chisholm-Burns on Arizona Public Television discussing ASHP Foundation-funded research about the value of pharmacists.”

Dr. Chisholm-Burns spends a little time on Arizona Public Media discussing some of the research she’s done using pharmacists in direct patient care. It’s really good stuff. The video can be found at the Arizona Public Media website.  The AJHP article that Dr. Chisholm-Burns refers to in the video can be found here.

Is pharmacy destined to repeat history?

Every time I turn around someone is talking about the need for change in pharmacy practice. That’s a good thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. I’ve discussed my thoughts in detail on this site before so I don’t feel the need to rehash everything I’ve said. Suffice it to say there is a buzz in the air.

I read an interesting article this morning at the ASHP Intersections website about the expanding role of technicians in pharmacy practice. While the article focuses a bit too heavily on the need for providing better education for technicians to fill this new role, it does make one thing perfectly clear: “As Pharmacists expand their roles and carve out new niches in an era of health care reform, they are counting more and more on highly skilled pharmacy technicians to take on added responsibility.” Well said.
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S.A.L.A.D.

Sound-Alike, Look-Alike Drugs (SALAD) have recently floated to the top of my attention with the release of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) recommended list of Tall Man Letters for look-alike drugs. I mentioned the new list on Twitter which resulted in a short, but interesting conversation with some colleagues.

SALADs have been problematic for quite some time and many solutions have been proposed, including Tall Man Lettering, physical separation of look-alike drugs, printing of both brand and generic names on packaging and storage bins, use of colorful warning labels, and so on and so forth. The problem with all these solutions is human involvement. Working in acute care pharmacy has taught me over and over again that all the above systems may decrease error, but certainly don’t eliminate them.
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