Pharmaceutical Robotics Require Careful Assessment

Greg Freeman , April 16, 2012

"But the more people you elect to train, the more important it is that you ensure uniformity in your training. The human factor never goes away, even with a system like this, and that human factor is what can cause things to go wrong," Antrum says. "People like to make their own workarounds or do things slightly different, but that kind of deviation can be the real weakness in your system. Your training has to address that."

Cost benefits can change over time
One potential pitfall with pharmaceutical robotics is that the benefits of the system may be diminished if the hospital changes the medications it commonly uses. That is the situation at Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs, CO—which has three hospitals and 650-plus beds. Memorial  acquired the IntelliFill i.v. robot from FHT in Daytona Beach, FL, about five years ago, and that led to reduced labor costs in the pharmacy while increasing accuracy and dose tracking, and improving patient safety with less touch contamination.

Over the past five years, the i.v. robot has saved the health system at least $1 million, says James Lewis, PharmD, BCPS, director of pharmacy with Memorial Health. But now that financial picture is changing. The robotic system was attractive at first because it could reduce the expense associated with one particular anti-nausea drug that was quite costly. With the robot compounding the drug, smaller doses could be used and frozen. The savings on that one drug essentially paid for the robotic system, Lewis says.

That product has now since gone generic, so there is no cost benefit from using the robot anymore. The robot is still used to a lesser degree for compounding, and it offers benefits other than cost savings, but the ongoing expense of using it is becoming a problem.

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