Robots May Offer Solution to Pharmacy Error Problems

Pharmacy errors are a serious problem in the United States. This form of serious medical malpractice happens regularly, and in the most severe cases it can result in serious injury or even death. The thing about these errors is that they are almost always caused by simple human error. Pharmacists and techs who are working too quickly and too carelessly wind up filling a prescription incorrectly and the patient pays the price. One hospital may have found a solution to the problem, however.

Robots Fundamentally Change a California Hospital Pharmacy

NPR reports that a hospital at the University of California San Francisco has taken a unique step to eliminate human error in its pharmacy. It has a robot filling prescriptions. The system works in a fairly simple way despite its technological complexity. The doctors write their prescriptions electronically. At the pharmacy a robot arm scoots around in the shelves and picks the proper medicine which is then sorted and dispensed into little packets. The packets are grouped together into rings with one ring for each patient. The shocking thing is the robot’s error rate. It has dispensed 6 million doses of drugs so far and it has only filed one bad prescription. That one bad prescription was due to a human error. The humans who were filling the prescriptions before the robot had an error rate of roughly 2.8%.

Interestingly, no one lost their job when the robot came in. Instead the pharmacists and techs have been freed up to do work that better done by humans, like consulting with physicians and patients. When the pharmacists do not have to spend their entire shifts filling as many prescriptions as humanly possible, they can provide better customer service. Doing this may further reduce the number of prescription errors by allowing pharmacists more time to explain drugs to those taking them and answer any questions patients may have. A system as advanced as the one in this hospital may not be feasible for a small town low-traffic pharmacy, but some level of automation between the status quo and this state-of-the-art system may improve patient outcomes.

Change in How Pharmacies do Business is Necessary for Patient Safety

Robots may be one answer to a problem that needs to be solved. Our nation’s number of pharmacy errors is entirely too high. It has reached an unacceptable level. The United States Food and Drug Administration has received more than 95,000 reports of medication errors since 2000. These reports are voluntary, so the actual number of errors is likely much higher. Forbes reports that there are an estimated one million prescription errors each year and that these errors contribute to 7,000 deaths. These errors are caused by things like poor handwriting, confusion between drugs with similar names, poor packaging, confusion of metric units, and pharmacists and technicians working too quickly. All of these problems can be solved by robots like the one being used in California.

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