You've heard of robots in surgery. Next, the metal men may be coming to your local pharmacy.
It's the latest in pharmacy technology -- a robot, designed to fill prescriptions. Already at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, two robots are filling more than 3,000 prescriptions every day. It's a workload that would be overwhelming for most pharmacies. The naval center says these robots offer a real advantage, not just because they're fast but because they are also cutting down on medical mistakes.
Phil Siebigeroth, pharmacist, says that the robots recognize what drugs are needed and count them automatically. It will tell you if the drug you selected is correct or not and aids a pharmacist in making sure that the patient gets the correct drug.
The technology uses a bar code system similar to the ones you find on products at the grocery store. Technicians enter prescription details directly into the pharmacy computer and then the robot takes over.
Each robot handles about 300 different types of pills. They do more than select and sort drugs, they make sure the bottle is labeled, scanned, placed on a conveyor belt, and put into a basket for packing.
The medication's code is checked again for accuracy and then sent to the proper area for distribution.
Although the robotic system is more efficient and eliminates the potential for human error, commanding officers stress that the robot will never replace the judgment of a physician or a pharmacist, emphasizing the robot is a helper for the pharmacist, not a replacement.
Right now, the robots at Bethesda handle mostly refill orders. The hospital hopes to eventually expand the robot's capabilities. Not only does the automated system handle patient's prescriptions from the hospital, but it also takes in prescription orders from satellite military pharmacies across the region.