Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Automating the pharmacy – the efficient way to dispense


Ewan Maule, Deputy Chief Pharmacist, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust describes the Trust’s move into automation and shares the positive results


Choosing automation

The decision was made to implement a small footprint automated pharmacy solution into the pharmacy to fill medication adherence packs, and we chose the Omnicell VBM 200F and Omnicell’s automated medication dispensing cabinets to manage medication on the wards. Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust is a Global Digital Exemplar site which means we will share our learning and experience of the Omnicell VBM 200F and cabinets with other Trusts. The benefits we have seen since automation, coupled with our decision to move from a model of three pharmacy departments to one single dispensing hub, have been significant.

The automated medication dispensing cabinets ensure that the right patient receives the correct dose of the right drug at the right time. Access to the cabinets is managed by secure fingerprint recognition and this, along with a unique lockable drawer system, guarantees that the security of controlled drugs is maximised. Both factors are of paramount importance for any mental health setting.

Since introducing the cabinets onto the wards, the hospital has seen an 11.7 per cent reduction in drug spend based on a 16-month comparison, this is a financial saving of £6k per ward per year. There is now a more efficient medication supply chain in place across the wards, which has led to a further reduction in waste and loss of expired medication. Pharmacy stock wastage has reduced from 1 per cent to 0 per cent which is a further £6k saving per year. In addition to this, nurses have also reduced the time they spend on medicines management by 50 per cent. They now spend more time on face-to-face patient care, which brings its own patient safety benefits. The cabinets have contributed to a 64 per cent reduction in reports relating to controlled drugs. This is due to the security the cabinet provides and the support available for nurses managing stock balances.

The number of ad-hoc/unplanned orders has fallen from 77 per cent to 25 per cent as the medication supply chain is more pro-active and medication is now available to ward staff when it’s needed – in fact 99.75 per cent of medication is available for administration when and where needed. Workload is now planned and ordering automated. This has resulted in reliable inventory management.

Drugs to take home

The Omnicell VBM 200F has automated our process for producing medication adherence pill packs for outpatients. Patients with mental health illnesses often have complex medication regimes and it’s imperative they take the right dose of the right medication at the right time to ensure there are no adverse impacts on their treatment plan. While medication adherence pill packs have a crucial role to play in this, filling them manually was particularly onerous for staff and always ran the risk of human error.

A review of the first three months of use of the Omnicell VBM 200F within pharmacy found a significant reduction of medication error rates for dispensing patient adherence packs. The non-automated error rate prior to installation was 0.69 per cent. However, post implementation no errors (0 per cent) were associated with the automated dispensing system. This meant that machine itself provided 100 per cent accuracy throughout the dispensing process. Reduced time was taken to dispense medication adherence packs and number of staff required in the dispensing process.

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It had previously taken 20 minutes to manually prepare one pack. Post automation this was reduced significantly to just three minutes per pack.

As a result, the pharmacy estimates that two to three WTE (whole-time equivalent) staff roles have been saved by the installation of the system. It has allowed staff to follow more clinical roles including the continued development of optimisation strategies to improve patient outcomes and cost effectiveness of medicines; advising patients on their medication and working as part of a multi- disciplinary team to educate patients on important steps to improve and maintain their health. There was also a reduction in medication errors – before automation 48 prescriptions included errors, during the course of the study the number of errors recorded were just seven and this was a result of human error post dispensing by the machine – more staff training has now helped to reduce this further still. This has helped to develop the commercial potential of the Trust. The study and process validation has enabled the Trust to approach neighboring Acute Trusts to offer a safe and reliable dispensing system for their patient’s medication adherence packs. This will provide the Trust with a new revenue stream as well as saving the Acute Trusts money, as they will no longer have to outsource from external organisations.

Freeing up staff


Ewan Maule

Since introducing automation at the Trust, there has been a 71 per cent increase in Pharmacy Clinical Interventions as clinical pharmacy staff like myself have been freed up from the medicines supply chain and are now more involved in patient-facing roles where they are better placed to make timely interventions to improve quality of care.

We’ve had really positive experiences with this technology. At the Trust we felt that no change or improvement in the human element of pharmacy processes would give us the step change in patient safety that automation would, and that has been proven to be correct. We now have our valuable and skilled staff doing the most appropriate tasks and having the greatest impact on patient safety and experience.

About the author

With well over 100 years experience between us, we've been around the editorial and medical blocks a few times. But we're still as keen as any young pup to root out what's new and inspiring.

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