Automation Technology in the Pharmacy and the Pharmacy Technician

Automation Technology has been used in pharmacies for decades.  It helps to speed prescription filling and processing, reduces filling errors and waste, enhances security, helps ensure patient safety and reduces labor costs.  Automation products include Automatic Unit Dose and Multi-Med Oral solid tablet packagers, Barcode Inventory Management Systems, Medication Pouch Inspector Machines, Automatic Counters and Filling Machines. Read on to learn how automation technology works in a pharmacy.

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What is Automation in Pharmacies?

Automation in pharmacies refers to the use of mechanized processes that are used to handle and distribute medications in a pharmacy.

History of Automation in Pharmacies

Automation first began in pharmacies in the late 1960’s when machines were developed to count medications. Later, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, highspeed machines were developed to count pills and fill medication bottles.

How do Robotic Prescription Dispensing Systems Work?

Once a prescription is entered into a pharmacy’s computer system, the Robotic Prescription Dispensing Systems robotic arm first determines the correct size vial and then finds the specified drug.

Using bar code scanning, it then verifies the location of the particular drug. The robotic arm then holds the vial and counts the pills as they are dropped into the vial.

The arm then places the vial in a small area where the patient label is applied along with warning labels.

Bar code scanning is then used throughout the entire process to ensure that the right drug is given to the right patient.

The pharmacist then does the final check for accuracy.

What are Advantages of Robotic Dispensing Systems?

Robotic Prescription Dispensing Systems can often process up to 150 prescriptions per hour.

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These types of systems can often fill 30% to 60% of the daily prescription volume.

They automatically print labels and warning labels and affix them to prescription bottles.

They contain from 75 to 225 universal dispensing cells which dispense pills directly into bottles which avoids the risk for cross contamination of medications.

Uncapped bottles are delivered for final inspection and on-screen drug image verification.

Bar codes are used throughout the entire process which is controlled by pharmacy staff.

Additional Benefits of Robotic Prescription Dispensing Systems

Additional Benefits of Robotic Prescription Dispensing Systems include:

  • The ability to easily calibrate cells on-site when drugs to be distributed change
  • The ability to manage employment costs and cover peak times without extra staff
  • The ability to track will-call, partial fill and out of stock prescriptions
  • The ability to dispense prescriptions safely and quietly and with no air pressurized dispensing
  • The ability to choose a robotic prescription dispensing system size based on prescription volume and pharmacy size
  • Allows for pharmacy refills delivered directly from the pharmacy to patients
  • Allows for a true two-way interface for status messaging throughout the entire medication fulfillment process
  • Allows for the ability to correct and resubmit cancelled or rejected prescriptions
  • Allows for better inventory awareness and filtering to reduce prescription rejections prior to allocation
  • Allows for access to closed-loop audit trails, check-in processes and e-manifests
  • Password protection
  • Compact modular design
  • Affordable cost ranging from $8000 to $50,000
  • Gives a centralized view of prescription tracking offering patients real time feedback on pickup or delivery times

Other types of Automation Systems in Pharmacies

Other types of Pharmacy Automation Systems include:

  • Counting scales that are small and are fitted with barcode scanners. To use this device pharmacy technicians scan the label and then the prescription bottle and then place the bottle on the scale and press the corresponding button.
  • Tablet Counting Tools sense pills as they are fed into the machine either by being poured into the tray or through an incoming bin. Pills are fed into a funnel at the top of the machine. More advanced models come with scanners to verify that the correct medication is being dispensed. Some models come with overhead cameras that notify the technician if the visual of the pill matches the scanned NDC.

Conclusion

The implementation of automation in pharmacies has helped to increase efficiency, fill more prescriptions, reduce staffing costs and reduce medication errors. New computerized robotic prescription dispensing systems automatically print prescription and warning labels and automatically determine the correct vial size, counting the correct number of pills and dropping them into the vial. Bar codes ensure that the correct medication is prescribed for the right patient with a final check completed by the supervising pharmacist. Understanding how automation in the pharmacy works can help ease the pharmacy technician into their expanded role working with automation in the pharmacy.

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