Wednesday, February 3, 1999

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Sylvia Shimonishi, pharmacy director at Kuakini Medical
Center, restocks drugs for the pharmacy's dispensing robot.
The robot works quickly and boasts a 100 percent accuracy rate.

Robot dispenses
the right medicine
at less cost

The system replaces four
workers and can offer speedy,
24-hour service

By Rod Ohira


Cutting-edge technology has made its way into Kuakini Medical Center's pharmacy in the form of a robot.

McKesson Automated Healthcare's drug-dispensing ROBOT-Rx can fill an inpatient's average order in under 30 seconds, is capable of operating 24 hours a day, and handles its own inventory management.

Most important, it boasts a 100 percent accuracy rate for distributing drugs.

Kuakini is the first hospital in Hawaii to install a robotic drug distribution system, and is one of only about 90 hospitals in the United States that has it.

"What we see as beneficial is the potential for cost savings through reduction of personnel, reducing the chances of human error, and the opportunity it gives us to re-engineer our pharmacists' services toward the patient," said Darryl Ing, Kuakini's senior vice president.

The system, which has been operating since November, features a robot and hundreds of storage racks with hundreds of bar-coded drugs housed inside a Plexiglas cell, a large see-through unit.

When the pharmacy receives a physician's prescription order, a pharmacist or technician enters it into the computer system and checks the inpatient's information file for allergies.

Sylvia Shimonishi, Kuakini's director of pharmacies, says all work must be verified by a pharmacist before the order is entered into the robot's system.

Technicians currently package and code 60 percent of the medications stored in the system. The rest come prepackaged with codes.

"The packaging process is where errors can occur," Shimonishi said. "To prevent that, we have quality controls in place."

A pharmacist checks every package and verifies its contents two times -- before it is sent to the robot for storage, and after the robot dispenses an order.

"It makes filling orders a whole lot easier and less monotonous," pharmacist Randal Nakamura said.

The robot alerts staff when its supply of a particular drug is running low. New packets are placed on a rack, and the robot reads bar codes to file them appropriately.

"I like it because the robot not only fills the orders but also puts back all the medication," said technician Sharon Tamashiro, who handles most of the packaging.

Shimonishi has been keeping close tabs on automated dispensing system advances for most of this decade.

"I was able to justify getting the robot by not filling four vacancies," said Shimonishi, who joined Kuakini's management staff in 1980 after 12 years at Queen's Hospital.

The list price of the robotic system purchased by Kuakini is $600,000, but Shimonishi says it's cost-effective.

"Right now, it's doing the job of those four people," she said.

"The bottom line is it makes operations efficient and can provide services at lower costs. Right now, we're saving $200,000 in salaries and benefits."

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