Innovations: Pill counter

Froedtert Hospital’s west outpatient pharmacy fills an average of 250 to 300 prescriptions daily. That keeps the facility’s seven pharmacists extremely busy, sometimes too busy to be able to provide the one-to-one direct interaction that patients at the hospital need.

Three years ago, management in Froedtert’s outpatient pharmacy began weighing their other options.

Mission, Kan.- based ScriptPro LLC designs custom-built pharmaceutical robots that are able to fill and label patient prescriptions with 99.7 percent accuracy.

According to Binita Patel, assistant director of Froedtert’s outpatient pharmacy, the $300,000 machine was purchased and went live in Froedtert’s west outpatient pharmacy in mid-May.

“The robot fills roughly 50 percent of our overall prescriptions,” Patel said.

Obtaining the new robot was beneficial for the pharmacy because it allowed some of the fill load work to be taken from the pharmacists, which gives them more time to spend with the patients. It was never purchased to eliminate human positions, Patel said.

“One of the biggest benefits is its accuracy,” said Corey Prell, manager of the outpatient pharmacy. “It eliminates human error and allows more time for the pharmacists to educate the patients- thus increasing patient safety.”

The ScriptPro robot is available in 50, 100 or 200 dispensing models, said Leslie Bayer, sales representative for ScriptPro.

“Each machine is custom built for each user, so it meets the best of their needs,” she said.

Froedtert’s robot has 200 cells for medications; the pharmacy is currently dispensing 183 different medications, because some particular medications are larger and require two cells, Patel said.

“There is a computer software program where the prescriptions are entered,” Prell said. “The robot reads the prescriptions, the arm comes across to select the right size vile, it takes the vile to the correct dispensing container and counts out the prescribed number of pills.”

After the robot counts out the correct number of pills, the arm takes the vile to a mini conveyor belt where the vial is labeled with the patient’s name and prescription information, Prell said.

“It fills, labels, and then moves it into one of 12 slots where it waits to be verified, all before one of our pharmacists could walk to the shelf to get the medication to manually fill a prescription,” he said. “It’s incredibly fast.”

Each prescription filled by the robot must be verified by a pharmacist.

“Verification allows us to manually inspect the type of medication and make sure that a mistake, though rare, did not happen,” Patel said.

“The system makes verification very easy,” Prell said. “Once the medication is dispensed into one of the twelve verification trays a pharmacist can scan it and see an image of the pill that should be in that bottle. It’s right there on the computer screen as big as ever.”

Once the prescription is checked the pharmacist must scan their badge and claim responsibility for that prescription, Prell said.

Froedtert began training on the ScriptPro robot only a few weeks ago. However, it is so easy to use that it has already become an integral part of pharmacy operations, Patel said.

The employees at the pharmacy are getting used to their robotic colleague, and even held a contest to name it.

“The robot’s name is S.P.E.N.C.E.R,” Patel said. “It stands for ScriptPro, efficient, new, cool, electronic, robot.”

According to Bayer, technology for the ScriptPro robot was developed in Mission, Kan. and the company has sold units in all 50 states, Canada, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and other countries internationally.

“We really like it,” Patel said. “It has quickened up our process, and has allowed us to do more of what we’ve been trained to do. Being located in a hospital we feel like we should be able to offer more than what a traditional walk-in pharmacy offers. Our patients have special needs. We should be able to provide them additional care and education. ScriptPro frees up some of our pharmacists so we can pay closer attention to our patients and what they need.” 

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