Robo Apothecary Passes Drug Test

If you think you're seeing a giant robot pharmacist at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center, don't blame the drugs.

The hospital is using "a family of giant robots" to count and process oral and injectable medicines, part of its integrated medication management system. By next year, physicians will directly input prescriptions into computers, the hospital says.

The android apothecaries have a perfect track record so far: zero errors in 350,000 doses of medication, according to a news release.

"Automated medication dispensing frees pharmacists from the mechanical aspects of the practice," says Mary Anne Koda-Kimble, dean of the UCSF School of Pharmacy. "This technology, with others, will allow pharmacists to use their pharmaceutical care expertise to assure that patients are treated with medicines tailored to their individual needs."

The robots are housed in a "tightly secured, sterile environment" and tower over humans, notes the release, which doesn't specify the actual size of the superhuman druggists. The robots receive electronic medication orders from physicians and human pharmacists, then pick, package and dispense individual doses. Machines assemble the bar-coded doses onto a ring containing all of a patient's medications for a 12-hour period. Nurses will begin using barcode readers to verify dosage at patient bedsides beginning this fall, according to the release.

The system also fills IV syringes or bags, including toxic chemotherapy compounds. The inventory management system also is automated.

Pharmacists and nurses "will have more time to work with physicians to determine the best drug therapy for a patient, and to monitor patients for clinical response and adverse drug reactions," the hospital says.

In other words, there's no danger, Will Robinson, no danger.