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VOL. 123 | NO. 219 | Friday, November 07, 2008

New Robot Fills I.V. Prescriptions At Methodist

By Tom Wilemon

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WORK PRODUCT: Members of the pharmacy staff at Methodist University Hospital watch as the IntelliFill I.V. robot dispenses loads, mixes, dispenses and packages the syringes that will be added to solutions. -- PHOTO COURTESY OF METHODIST UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL

Officials at Methodist University Hospital expect to save $550,000 a year and lessen the risk for error with a new robot that fills I.V. prescriptions in the pharmacy.

The IntelliFill I.V. robot has dispensed more than 50,000 prescriptions since it went online six weeks ago. It is among 30 such robots in the nation, but other types of robots in hospital pharmacies are nothing new.

Methodist University Hospital has had one since the late 1990s that packages daily doses of oral medicine for patients, removes expired drugs from shelves and performs other storage and distribution functions. These robots and similar robotic devices are also used in other pharmacies at area hospitals.

However, Methodist University is the first hospital in Tennessee to have the IntelliFill I.V. robot, officials said. It fills I.V. syringes much more quickly than a human could.

The hospital paid about $780,000 for the computer.

Allison Apply

“It takes away the kind of human error that you would be most concerned about, such as somebody using the wrong drug or somebody drawing the wrong amount so you could overdose or underdose,” said Alison Apply, director of the pharmacy.

“This type of technology takes away those types of mistakes that could definitely happen with somebody who was doing that by hand.”

Naming rights

The computer is not replacing pharmacists. It frees their time to focus more on interaction with physicians and nurses. The hospital is saving money because it can mix the prescriptions in-house instead of having to purchase premixed I.V. medications.

Joyce Broyles, the manager of the pharmacy, said the computer also provides better accountability.

Wayne Segars

“It keeps records,” Broyles said. “For every vial, there’s a picture and a (barcode) record and a number for tracking.”

Wayne Segars, the assistant director of pharmacy, said the computer has the potential for other applications.

“This is a reliable new technology that we’re on the cutting edge with,” Segars said. “We’re still learning how we’re going to best utilize this technology, but the benefits we see are safety for our patients and reducing the time that our pharmacists have to spend on the dispensing component. It’s also a mechanism for improving our costs.”

A representative of ForHealth Technologies Inc. has worked with Broyles, lead pharmacist Sherry Davis and the two pharmacy technicians, Cassandra Jones and Kim Parker, as they’ve learned how to operate the system.

The team is still learning the computer. They’re asking hospital employees to help name it.

The older computer is named Art after a long-time volunteer at the hospital.

“Art is definitely a him,” Broyles said. “I’m not sure about this one yet.”

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