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Robot Distributes Medication at Hospital

(CNN) — Doctors and administrators at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center are giving high marks to its new so-called robotic pharmacy. The technology is changing hospital pharmacies.

Making sure hospital patients like Jorge Rico get the right medicine is critical. He’s being treated for leukemia at UCSF, the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

“I’m taking about five pills in morning, couple in afternoon,” said leukemia patient Jorge Rico.

How Jorge gets his pills offers a window into the ever-changing world of health care and how technology can eliminate critical life or death errors.

His medicine came from the hospital’s so-called robotic pharmacy. A machine instead of humans fills the prescriptions. It plucks pills one by one and packages them. Dr. Josh Adler says it’s been a game changer in the field of medicine.

“The robot gives a huge amount of confidence because we know that the pharmacist and pharmacy technicians are incredibly skilled people but they’re human and they will occasionally make mistakes,” said Dr. Josh Adler, Chief Medical Officer, UCSF

Errors are all too common. The Institute of Medicine found that on average there’s at least one medication error per hospital patient per day. That means that no one is immune to an error, but it also notes that error rates vary widely across facilities.

CNN first covered this emerging trend of robotic pharmacies nearly two years ago. Since it made its debut in 2011, UCSF has added additional safeguards, like bar coding the medicine, right up to the point that it’s administered to the patient.

“It takes the human element out of of picking a drug off a shelf and sending it back to the floor where the patient is where even if you got that right 99 percent of time, we give something like three million doses of drug every three month here, so even a one percent error is still far too high,” Dr. Adler said.

It might sound like a job killer, but the hospital says no. Instead administrators say they can better leverage pharmacists’ skills, allowing them to spend more time in the hospital focusing on drug therapies.

Nationwide, though the robots still aren’t widespread. The reason: cost. UCSF paid $7 million for its system.

As the price comes down, look for them to eventually become standard, which in turn could save lives from human mistakes and boost confidence in the nation’s hospitals.

“I think this is the way our profession is moving. Automation is going to be part of our career,” said Jonathan Hutchinson, UCSF Hospital Pharmacist.

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