Will Robot Pharmacists Reduce Prescription Errors?

Hospital in Rocky Mount, North Carolina has a new pharmacy team member, MACK. MACK, McKesson Automated Cartfill King, is an automated prescription dispensing system – a robot pharmacist. It can fill thousands of prescription orders a day and according to the Rocky Mount Telegram, has not yet made a dispensing mistake.

MACK uses barcodes to identify patients and medications alike. Patients wear wristbands with their information encoded. These are scanned to ensure the correct patient is identified to avoid a patient getting the wrong medication. After the medication is ordered by a doctor and verified by the pharmacy staff, MACK fills the order. Ten percent of the orders filled by the robot are double checked by a pharmacist on staff.

The pharmacy at Nash General Hospital is one of 400 in the nation to use the MACK technology. Information provided by the manufacturer indicates it reduces expired medication costs by 54 percent and pharmacist-checking labor by 90 percent. Perhaps most importantly, it reportedly increases prescription filling accuracy to 99.9 percent eliminating almost all hospital prescription errors.

Pharmacy director Mike Lamonds said, “the medication process is very complex and prone to error. The barcode technology provides an additional safety net for our patients.”

As a pharmacy error lawyer, I see the frequency and severity of the injuries caused by
pharmacy malpractice. Hopefully the new robot will help reduce them. However, my experience tells me there are always unintended consequences to new technology. While the robot may fix the problem it was meant to address, it is unclear at this time whether it will create new problems that did not exist before. For example, electronic prescribing was heralded as something that was going to eliminate future prescription errors. While electronic prescribing did solve some types of prescription error problems, a previous blog article pointed out that recent studies have shown it has created new types of prescription errors in data entry that did not exist before. The net result, according to these studies is that electronic prescriptions have not really reduced the overall prescription error rate. We will have to wait and see if the same thing happens with robotic pharmacists.


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