The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) made a significant announcement yesterday that could be a watershed moment for how medications are given to hospital patients in the United States.

In a typical hospital setting, patients are receiving many different types of prescription medications — ranging from mundane vitamins, to more intense drugs such as chemotherapy.

In the thousands of times medications are given to patients, and with the high number of humans handling the process of organizing and giving the medications, human error is bound to occur. And errors can be life threatening — especially if related to a chemotherapy agent.

UCSF wants to make the rate of error for medication administration to be zero. In order to do this, they are using robot technology to prepare and track medications, with the main goal, obviously, being to improve patient safety.  In the phase in of the project, not a single error occurred in the 350,000 doses of medication prepared — remarkable.

How it works (from press release ; refer to below video showing robots in action):

Once computers at the new pharmacy electronically receive medication orders from UCSF physicians and pharmacists, the robotics pick, package, and dispense individual doses of pills. Machines assemble doses onto a thin plastic ring that contains all the medications for a patient for a 12-hour period, which is bar-coded.

There are some key advantages this system brings to the workflow of a hospital setting:

*The robots can do chemotherapy dosing, one of the toughest and most sensitive things to do.  They can also do complex IV medication dosing.

*There is no touching of the medications by hand. The medications come from the manufacturer, are processed by the robots, and then sent to the nurses and to the patient’s bedside in a sterile setting.

*The robots allow for pharmacists and nurses to be more efficient, by taking away repetitive tasks.  While they do not replace either, they enable a healthcare system already stretched for resources to increase productivity.

*The system costs $15 million, but with the payoff in regards to improved patient outcomes, as well as time saved, this investment should make this endeavor by UCSF more than worthwhile.


University of California San Francisco Press Release