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Automation: What do you really want?

Garry Boyd
From an Intellectual Capital Perspective

Issue 82: May 2009
Page: 1 of 1 Author's Profile | Send to a Friend | Printer Version

It is quite understandable that the Americans have embraced automated solutions with more relish than us.
After all, we dispense in manufacturers packs…….they don’t.
It is probably easier for a pharmacist to justify the employment of an automated solution for loose medicines rather than packaged medicines.
Mark Neuenschwander, who makes the occasional cameo in i2P has made a fine business out of advising the US industry how best to select and utilize automated solutions specific to individual environments.
We will no doubt catch up.

Apart from the investment, one of the biggest problems confronting many pharmacies wishing to automate their dispensing function is whether or not they can justify the loss of space.
This will no doubt become more of an issue when we move towards smaller pharmacies with a minimal focus on retail and a heavier reliance on professional services.

The majority of automated solutions tend to be aimed at the hospital market rather than community pharmacy………many machines are approaching the size of a Kenworth truck with a price to match for all the bells and whistles, which ultimately contribute to the size of the machine, and of course, the price.
Many bells and whistles are often complete overkill.
As it is in our nature to want the said; “bells and whistles”, manufacturers will cater to the apparent need.

The following is a link to an interesting machine;
http://pharmacyautomationsystems.com/d-60-specifications.htm
The D.60 machine sits on a footprint of about 1x square metre, which makes it an attractive proposition for small dispensaries.
Clearly, a machine capable of dispensing manufacturer’s packs is not able to be reduced to such a size.
The D.60 holds 60x medicines and fills vials according to prescription.
The big brother model, the D.60PCV is even more impressive.
It is capable of the dual function of filling vials and blister packs (known as “punch cards” in the US), although perhaps not to the required capability of satisfying our DAA needs by presenting multiple medicines in the one pack.

A different market with different needs, but brilliant nonetheless.

No bells and whistles here, just a halfway type solution that involves some participation on the part of the operator.
Note that the operator seals the punch card manually and the label is not produced by the machine. How attractive would this machine be to pharmacists if the punch card was omitted from the machine complete with seal and label, at perhaps double the price?
Immediate loss of interest is my guess.
If the machine offered a “complete” process and an error was discovered the punch card would be wasted and the operator would be left wondering what to do with a pile of medicines……..fill the next punch card manually?

Not good.

The manufacturer claims a “Zero cross-contamination of medications” standard, which is admirable. However, this standard can only apply to the internal behavior of the machine, and cannot relate to a lapse on the part of the operator.

Yes, a pedantic point, perhaps, but I make it to heighten the point that if an automated solution is within the radar of your business it is essential that you determine exactly what you want to have provided by a machine. For example, a video of the very impressive Gollmann G-Series machine shows the pharmacist leaving the patient to walk to the delivery point to retrieve the patient’s medicine. This takes about 8 seconds, yet the Gollmann G-Series exhorts a retrieval time of 8 to 15 seconds.
At 500 prescriptions a day, the pharmacist is spending an hour a day walking to the retrieval point and back to the patient!
Isn’t this ridiculous waste of time exactly what pharmacists are trying to avoid?

There is little point being impressed by a convenient ROI statement made by a manufacturer if you end up with a machine that fails to provide the most suitable solution for your individual business and you don’t factor in the “hidden” cost of automation in the dispensary.

Unfortunately, a smart talking dude wearing white shoes may be adept at ramming a brilliant ROI down your throat but less skillful in determining whether or not you will actually achieve it. Remember, it’s all over when he runs out the door with your cheque looking like a rat with a gold tooth.

Maybe an Australian version of Mark Neuenschwander will emerge to provide pharmacists with much needed balance.


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