Hospitals in Ontario and Quebec are adding new staff members to help dispense medication to patients, but they won’t need lab coats.

Next year, the Centre Hospitalier Regional de Trois-Rivieres will introduce

Robot-Rx to its pharmacy to help cope with patient load following a merger with two other Quebec hospitals.

Medication is currently provided to patients on a seven-day rotation. “”But many patients come in and go out within these seven days and we have a number of changes in the medication every day by the doctor,”” said Trois-Rivieres chief pharmacist Yvon Rousseau.

He said that about 40 per cent of the medication dispensed is returned to the pharmacy partially or totally unused.

“”I said to the director, ‘We need to change that process of serving medication. (There are) two options: double the staff or use a robot.’ The solution (we used) was the robot.””

Robot-Rx, manufactured by McKesson Canada, based in Saint-Laurent, Que., is a 12-ft. by 8-ft. octagonal base with a swing arm that picks and packs medication using a bar code reader.

“”The medication is placed on rods inside the robot,”” explained Olivier Martin, director of automation and logistics solutions for McKesson. “”There’s about 800 to 1,000 rods and on each rod you have multiple doses of the same medication. It really combines memory and bar code reading to make sure they go and pick the right drug.””

McKesson Canada has also sold its Robot-Rx to the Scarborough Hospital in Ontario, which will use it to handle more than 90 per cent of its patient drugs. The hospital has also purchased an application from the company called Admin-Rx, which allows for bedside verification of medication.

“”It’s a bar code scanner which the nurses use at the bedside. Generally, they scan the bar code on the patient’s armband, they scan their own name tag . . . then it scans the medication also,”” said Patricia Macgregor, director of pharmacy at Scarborough.

The five pitfalls of dispensing drugs are: right patient, right drug, right dose, right time and right route of administration. Right time isn’t necessarily a fatal error. “”If it’s the wrong drug or the wrong strength, that’s when you start getting into trouble,”” said Martin.

Admin-Rx is a more direct way of making sure these mistakes don’t happen. Bedside scanners connected to a central pharmacy database with patient information can immediately verify that the right person is receiving the right drug.

In some cases, it may appear to be the right drug but the drug company that supplied it may have discontinued it. “”Under normal circumstances, the nurse would just give that med. She doesn’t know it’s been discontinued yet. With this, because it’s all electronic . . . the nurse would know.””

Trois-Rivieres won’t have the robot on its premises until January of next year and it won’t be fully operational until June, according to Rousseau. But he hopes the robot will provide the hospital with improved efficiency.

“”The pharmacy assistant asks the robot to pick up the pills with the bar code so it doesn’t make any mistakes. In this way the robot is able to choose the right medication for the patient with less human intervention,”” he said.

Scarborough aims to have its robot up and running before the end of this year, with bedside scanning technology to follow next summer.

McKesson Canada has been making medical robots for a number of years. It has supplied earlier generations to Canadian hospitals in Toronto, Quebec City and Kitchener, Ont.

Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto has had a McKesson robot in place since 1996. “”It drops a lot of stuff, and sometimes if the packages are sticking together it won’t be able to tell if there’s two packages. Sometimes there’s empty packages. But otherwise it’s more accurate than a person,”” said pharmacy technician Kam Dhillon. “”It saves a lot of time.””

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