Another unexpected problem involved one thing that humans can do but the TUGs can't: Step up an inch or two. That becomes a problem when the hospital's elevators don't stop completely level with the floor, a not-uncommon occurrence in an older building.
"An older infrastructure is something you don't usually consider, but you should," he says. "You're introducing the most modern piece of moving machinery and it expects its environment to be pristine. If your hospital is older, the floors aren't perfect and the elevators aren't always precise. It can be a problem you'll have to overcome."
Drug orders are tagged with a radio frequency identification label and placed in drawers on the TUG, which is then sent on its way. The robot travels the hallways, summons the elevator when needed by sending a radio signal, and announces itself when it arrives on the unit. Then a nurse places a thumb on the thumbprint reader to verify identification.
When the TUG is satisfied that the right person is ready to receive the drug delivery, it opens the drawer containing that unit's medications. The nurse removes the drugs labeled for that unit and places them in a lockbox.
Nurse satisfaction with the pharmacy improved by 23%, delivery reliability improved by 23%, and delivery predictability went up by 50%.
"When I see a TUG going down the hallway, I think of what would be happening if we didn't have the robot," Summerfield says. "Either that med would still be sitting in the pharmacy waiting to be delivered, or a technician would be delivering it and not be at the pharmacy working on other orders."
Greg Freeman is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders Media.
This article appears in the April 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.