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UCSF's Robotic Pharmacy Frees Up Time for Pharmacists

Pharmacists don't go to pharmacy school just to perform menial tasks behind a drug counter, yet that's exactly what many of them end up doing. So why not let robots take over the grunt work and leave pharmacists to focus on patient care?

UCSF Medical Center recently announced that it has launched an automated, robotics-controlled pharmacy at two UCSF hospitals. The under-the-radar pharmacy system, which was phased in over the past year, so far has prepared 350,000 doses of medication without error.

In a standard pharmacy prescription process, a doctor writes the prescription, the hospital clerk scans the prescription to the pharmacist, the pharmacist puts the prescription into the computer, a technician fills the order, the pharmacist checks for the correct medication, and a nurse gives the medications to the patient. With the automated process, everything is the same—except robots select the drugs and fill the prescription order, saving time for pharmacists (and possibly eliminating technician jobs).

UCSF explains:

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. This fall, nurses at UCSF Medical Center will begin to use barcode readers to scan the medication at patients’ bedsides, verifying it is the correct dosage for the patient. The automated system also compounds sterile preparations of chemotherapy and non-chemotherapy doses and fills IV syringes or bags with the medications.

With more time on their hands, UCSF pharmacists will be able to dedicate more energy to working with doctors to find the best drug therapies for patients, and to monitoring patients for adverse reactions—until, that is, UCSF figures out how to find robotic replacements for pharmacists, too.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.