Health Economics

Health Economics

Efficiency and accuracy improved in the pharmacy – thanks to technology


Community pharmacy is under tremendous pressure to deliver a safe and effective service to patients in the face of funding cuts. Last year, it was estimated that more than 7,218 prescriptions were dispensed per community pharmacy. These prescriptions have become more complex as the UK population ages. Yet, with ever-increasing pressures on demand, time and resources, as well as funding cuts resulting in staff hours being reduced or lost, the risk of medication errors in primary care rises. We find out more about a potential solution…

Earlier this year, the Department of Health found that, in England alone, 237 million mistakes occur at some point in the medication process. Out of the 237 million medication errors, it is estimated that 38.3 per cent occur within a primary care setting. Primary care adverse drug reactions cause an estimated 627 deaths per year and cost the NHS a staggering £83.7million a year in unnecessary hospital admissions.

Community pharmacies can help to prevent medication errors by installing robotic systems that sort and dispense medication and automated systems that accurately fill and check medication adherence packs. Investing in and installing this technology means that experienced staff no longer spend as much time on operational tasks like restocking, stock rotation and filling medication adherence packaging. It also means that pharmacies have the opportunity to focus on other valuable revenue streams, such as medicine usage reviews and patient group directives.

Help in time of increased need

‘We decided to implement the Omnicell VBM 200F within our Tooting pharmacy,’ says Mayank Patel, Director and Superintendent Pharmacist, Pearl Chemist Group. ‘Our goals were to consolidate the filling of medication adherence packs into one pharmacy, free up staff time across all branches so they could spend more time supporting patients on initiatives like medicine usage review, speed up the checking process for the packs, and improve patient safety and remove the risk of human error.

‘Pearl Chemist Group consists of 13 independent pharmacies serving South London. We provide medication adherence pill packs to patients with complex medication regimes to help ensure that patients take the right dose of the right drug at the right time. Previously the packs were filled manually in each pharmacy, however since the introduction of the VBM 200F the majority of packs are now being filled centrally at our Tooting branch. The machine is currently filling all packs for 10 out of our 13 branches and will begin filling for the remaining three over the next few months. The VBM 200F receives the electronic medication administration records from the branch then fills and accurately checks the packs at a rate of 30 to 40 packs per hour. The staff time that has been saved due to the machine has been our biggest benefit to date. Previously, it would take the pharmacist up to 10 minutes to check medication adherence packs, now it takes a matter of seconds thanks to the vision checking and RFID technology used by the machine,’ he continues.

‘Staff in our 10 branches no longer have to spend hours de-blistering medication and then filling and checking medication adherence packs and, as a result, are free to spend more time delivering face-to-face patient care. Our branches now receive filled and pre-checked packs that have been produced by the VBM ready to dispense to patients. The machine acts as a valuable safety net for staff as they no longer have to fill the packs manually. It also means that pharmacy staff can focus on other revenue streams such as group directives and medicine usage reviews. At a time where there’s more pressure on pharmacies to deliver more for less, this is essential.

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Mayank Patel

Removing human error

‘The automated filling system uses smart medication trays which are equipped with barcoding and RFID (Radio-frequency identification) technology that makes sure each pack is audited throughout the entire packing process. While one pack is being filled by the system, a second pack is staged ready to be filled, improving efficiency, reducing operating expenses and freeing up staff time. Each drug-specific cassette contains an RFID chip for identification. The machine uses unparalleled vision-checking technology to identify and validate medication being packed based on size, shape, colour and imprint. It takes corrective action in the event of an error, significantly reducing the risk of human error and improving patient safety. The VBM can also visually check medication that is manually added to the packs.’

‘In our latest General Pharmaceutical Council inspection we received a “good” rating which is the best we’ve ever received, previously we have only had “satisfactory”. The inspectors were particularly impressed with new processes we have put in place, the VBM-200F and the audit trail it provided. We are very proud to have received this rating and are really happy that the work the machine does to save our staff time has been recognised by the pharmacy regulator.

‘Ultimately, the machine has allowed us to free up both our pharmacists and pharmacy technician’s availability so that they can spend more time at the counter and in the consulting room helping patients. It has enabled us to provide the best possible care for our patients, which is incredibly rewarding.’

It’s now more important than ever for pharmacies to modernise and consider automation to drive patient safety, help reduce costs and spend more time with patients. Most community pharmacies are using IT to some extent, but a systematic approach is needed for the widespread introduction of automation to help overcome funding pressures and incidences of medication errors. As pharmacies are being expected to deliver more for less, technology may well be the only solution.

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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