Rx INDUSTRY: Can Use Robots to Lower Medical Errors
To reduce the number of medication errors that harm 1 million Americans each year, the pharmacy department at Carl T. Hayden Veterans Administration Medical Center in Arizona is using a new technology to fill patient prescriptions. Manufacturers of the "mechanized pharmacist," called Robot Rx, claim it can fill prescriptions with "nearly perfect accuracy." In addition to identifying and collecting a dozen medications in a minute, Robot Rx does a series of checks to make sure the proper drugs are given to the right patient in the correct strength and dosage. Robert Howden, director of the VA's pharmacy department said that because the robot also restocks the medications, additional errors are avoided. The medical center fills an estimated 1.5 million prescriptions each year. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices predicts medication errors can be reduced by 85% by using simple technology such as hand-held scanners and bar codes. Despite its benefits, the "mechanical pill pusher" still cannot override doctors' orders or fill orders for controlled substances or liquid or "bulky" prescriptions, such as inhalers. Observers say it is too soon to tell whether the $1 million robotic system will replace humans. But citing its plusses, Howden said the Robot Rx is accurate and "it never calls in sick" (Snyder, Arizona Republic, 2/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.