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Healthwise: Hi-Tech Pharmacy

By: Cheryn Stone Email
By: Cheryn Stone Email

October 22, 2009

When you need a prescription filled this image might come to mind: a white-coated pharmacist slowly and carefully counting out the pills. Not any more, at least at Martha Jefferson Hospital, where technology controls everything from registering patients to tracking medical records to filling prescriptions.

In this week's Martha Jefferson Healthwise, CBS19's Cheryn Stone discovered the result is more contact with patients, not less. The pharmacy is operating automatically, which allows the pharmacists to help people.

"We really try to maximize the use of technicians and automation in order to free up the pharmacists for activities in the floor. By doing so, pharmacists can be interacting with physicians, nurses, patients and patients families," said Pharmacy Operations Coordinator, Tom Rapp.

Here's how it works. A physician writes a prescription, the pharmacist enters the order, and that info is then fed to the robot electronically. The robot's swinging arm grabs the medication to dispense it quickly.

"The label will be printing, it's applied to an envelope. The scanner recognizes that envelope and barcode for that patient, holds it open to receive the medications that are brought over through the robotic arm, and here they are to be dispensed," said Rapp.

The filled prescription is sent to the patient unit through a tube system. If the medication is too large or uncommon, it will be electronically streamed to a carousel. The carousel then directs the technician to get the medicine, which is then scanned and ready to go.

"The robot absolutely will not misread a barcode. If a barcode is somehow altered or crinkled, it will reject it, but it will not misread," said Rapp.

Rapp added that he can understand why people might be uneasy about having their medication dispensed by a machine, but he says if no mistakes are made, it allows pharmacists to focus even more on the individual patient.


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