This wall of medication is New York Presbyterian’s entire stock. Thanks to the SwissLog, the hospital is able to stock no more than what is needed, saving millions on pharmaceutical drugs.
BY TRONE DOWD
NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens’ hospital in Flushing is just one of 30 medical institutions nationwide to be on the cutting edge of pharmaceutical sciences following the incorporation of the site’s new state-of-the-art robotic pharmacy.
Made up of several functioning parts, the robotic pharmacy functions as an organizer, packager and efficiency monitor of medication. As explained by Pharmacy Assistant Director Kevin Wilkin, the robotic pharmacy takes a task that once took hours at a time to perform with the possibility of error constantly looming overhead and turns it into a process that take no more than a few minutes to provide necessary treatments and medications to every patient in NewYork-Presbyterian, virtually error free.
“We’re always looking for ways to make it a safer practice,” Wilkin said before explaining the way the pharmacy used to be run. “Most places still do it this way. In that process, every day a list of medications is printed and dispensed to the patients. These were called picking stations. You’d have a lot of shelves and these small bins that you’d have to manually pick out the medicine from. Two technicians would use the list to handpick everything. After the technicians were done, a pharmacist would have to double check everything going to patients. This would take entire evenings to do, easily five or six hours for five or six people to do. It was extremely tedious.”
In 2012, NewYork-Presbyterian began looking into the technology that would help streamline the old manual system. Doing some research and giving the available technology some time to mature, NewYork-Presbyterian prepared its staff for such a change in the nearby future. In February 2014, the pharmacy finally decided to commit to the SwissLog, a German-made robot with the function of distributing tablets, capsules and vials efficiently.
“Lot numbers and expiration dates are on everything,” Wilkin said, holding up one of the containers of medication.
Labels and RFID tags are placed on the outside of the SwissLog compatible containers and are loaded with corresponding medication and logged using software built for the device. Once this is done by pharmacy technicians, everything else is automated. From determining the dosage by patient and giving a traceable barcode to each individual pill for the pharmacy’s records to double checking that the medication is correct, the robot ensures accountability every step of the way.
The pills are then sealed into tiny plastic envelopes with the patient’s name and location on them. All of the patients’ medicine for the day is placed on a single plastic ring, where it’ll be taken to them for their various needs.
“It helps us reduce inventory,” Wilkin said. “The robot tells us what the usage is. It will keep track of how many tablets are needed on average, adjusting its own numbers on a regular basis and relaying that information to us, so we can make the appropriate order.”
The machine is able to keep tablets that have expired from ever reaching the patient. When unused tablets are returned to the pharmacy, the SwissLog is smart enough to unpack the pills in order of expiration date, ensuring that those closest to expiring are used first. This virtually ensures that medicine never goes to waste.
The machine is mirrored on two sides in case one side of the machine goes down and is in need of maintenance. Thus far, the SwissLog has doled out four million doses and counting without a single mistake.
And despite the machine’s capacity to cut down on a process that required manual labor, no pharmaceutical technicians have lost their jobs.
“We didn’t have to lay anybody off,” Wilkin said. “We actually needed extra people.”
Technicians are now responsible for delivering medications to patients as well as maintaining the work that the robot does. The Swisslog focuses completely on performing the repetitive tasks, freeing up employees to fulfill more complex duties.
Pharmacists are still tracking orders, but doctors are now making them through the computer. These requests are fulfilled by SwissLog and distributed depending on urgency. Requests labeled STAT are brought to the doctors within minutes using the pneumatic tube system in the hospital.
“Our administrators have always been very supportive,” Wilkin said.
He said that as one of 30 hospitals in the nation to have such a state of the art system, NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens is grateful for the support and proud of what’s being accomplished at the hospital.