When a patient needs medication or a prescribed treatment, they need a simple, smooth, and safe means of fulfilling getting that care. Most drug dispensing environments are unfortunately unable to deliver that experience.
In hospitals, nurses and other care providers are stretched impossibly thin, working with extremely limited resources and caring for too many patients at a time.
Pharmacists are also caught between the process of drug dispensing and administrative tasks or thoroughly addressing their customers’ concerns. A possible solution to these issues may be in automating the more technical aspects of drug dispensing. The technology to do this does exist.
Automated pharmacy dispensing systems like the Omnicell Machine, the Pyxis Supply Station, AcuDose’s ROBOT-RX, and others have been in hospitals, clinics, and other facilities for decades.
Manufacturers of these and other automatic drug dispensing systems are now working on bringing automatic pill counter machinery to more pharmacies and possibly even directly into patients’ homes.
How Does Pharmacy Automation Work?
Automated pharmacy dispensing systems work by connecting with physician databases to acquire electronic medical records for individual patients. Prescription information goes directly to an automatic dispensing cabinet at a set location, whether it’s a specific floor or wing of a hospital, dispensary area, nurses’ station, or elsewhere.
A care provider can then quickly confirm their identity through a login, badge reading, or fingerprint scan and access the patient’s information.
When the patient’s file and the relevant medication order are selected, the automated cabinet opens a drawer, door, or other compartments with the medication, which is dosed out in a specific quantity. After the dose is retrieved, the cabinet closes, the provider ends their access session, and the medication can be administered.
At the point of administration, a bedside chart or patient ID scan can be used to confirm the medication dose, which is logged in the patient’s electronic medical records.
This information is also used to adjust medication refill reports and replenishment details for the pharmacy or central supply departments. Details can also be shared with billing and other administrative departments.
Since all of this activity is being tracked and managed electronically, the medication management process is streamlined for care providers, supply managers, and other personnel.
After these systems were introduced in the 1980s and have been since successfully used by hospitals, they have also been deployed in other care facilities, including hospice, rehab, and surgery centers, nursing homes, and settings where medications are regularly dispensed.
Now, the capability may be used to automate more processes for pharmacists in commercial and retail settings. They may even make daily medication management easier for people at home.
A Neighborhood Pharmacy Robot And Automated Countertop Pill Counter
Over the years, commercial pharmacies have worked to streamline the process of taking a doctor’s prescription and delivering that medication to the hands of the patient.
Electronic prescription systems and drive-up pharmacist windows are now familiar fixtures, but some retailers want to further advance and automate the fulfillment process.
Walgreens is currently working on an automated prescription filling and drug dispensing system that would almost entirely remove pharmacists from the task of preparing meds and counting pills. Instead, these professionals would be focused on face-to-face interaction with patients when and where it’s needed.
Those customers who are simply stopping in for a quick medication pickup or refill could complete the process with the aid of what is essentially a pharmacy robot. CVS has already started utilizing similar technology to fill prescriptions at high-volume stores.
Beyond the drugstore, home versions of the automatic pill counters are starting to hit the market. These are electronic and connected devices that help individuals manage more complex medication regimens.
They are usually manually loaded for a set period of time, such as a week or month, by the patient or a caregiver. Over that period, medications are dispensed automatically through the device or via app controls.
These automated pill counters and dispensers are designed to help patients avoid missed, duplicate, or incorrect dosing, especially for those who may have memory problems or difficulty self-managing their treatments.
More and more, these devices could be directly integrated into telemedicine and remote patient care. While they are fairly novel at this time, they could soon become as commonplace as online patient portals and manual pill dispensers.