Fletcher Allen Health Care has added a new member to its pharmaceutical staff: a robot. It's a machine that compounds intravenous drugs for patients with the goal of improved patient safety.
Inside a "clean" room at Fletcher Allen Health Care, test runs are underway on the new IV station. Pharmacy technician Heather Stone tells it to prepare preoperative antibiotics for patients heading into surgery.
"So this is the drug. It comes in a powder and we're going to put it in this machine and it's going to put fluid in there to reconstitute it so we can draw it up," said Stone.
The sterile robot is not yet "live." Months of training and prep come first. But once it is, this machine will compound batches of drugs the hospital uses in large supply, like IV antibiotics.
"It uses a robotic arm to help prepare the medications, but it also has built into the software all the procedures and recipes, if you will, for how to compound those and it uses bar code ready technology as well as visual recognition of the product in order to prepare the right drugs," said Karen McBride, FAHC pharmacy director.
It goes through several rounds of weights and measurements to make sure the dose is accurate. It even reads the face of the technician so it knows that someone certified is feeding the robot. Eventually, it will be able to run for 22 straight hours before it self-cleans itself with ultraviolet light.
Its goal is to improve patient safety.
"It helps engineer out both human error from picking the wrong medication, or mixing the wrong medication, as well as any touch contamination," said McBride.
And patient safety has been the impetus for this type of automation at hospitals nationwide, especially after the meningitis crisis at the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts two years ago. Sixty-four people died after receiving contaminated steroid injections.
Right now, Fletcher Allen makes some compounded drugs by hand. It's a tedious, repetitious process that often causes injuries to technicians' hands and wrists. It buys other drugs from outside vendors.
"So it was a $400,000 price tag, but the return on investment we expect within two years based on the reduction in the cost of the drugs we've been purchasing outside and also just the reduction in the employee injuries also contributes to that return on investment," said McBride.
It's an investment the hospital says will save money, but most importantly could save lives through improved safety for patients.
Fletcher Allen hopes to eventually purchase another robot for custom-made medications which are sometimes needed for pediatric patients and others. There's also a robot that can compound chemotherapy agents.
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