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5 ways pharmacy automation saves money

With medication shortages, patient safety and accurate dosing creating daily challenges, some providers have found financial benefits in pharmacy automation solutions.

"Any time you put humans into a process, there's a massive risk of contamination, errors and other costly mistakes," said Bill Shields, global vice president of sales and marketing of Intelligent Hospital Systems in Winnipeg, Canada.

Shields outlined the five specific ways an automated pharmacy operation can save money and improve patient safety.

1. Reduced vulnerability to medication shortages
"Drugs haven't increased – doses have. Roughly 80 percent of prescriptions or dosages come from 20 percent of drugs," said Shields. "Pharmacies can't do the volumes needed, so they outsource the drugs. The outsourcers then get priority on the drugs, and in turn the hospitals pay an incredible amount for them. Usually five to six times more than they would normally pay if they were to buy directly from wholesaler in house." And, with more and more drug shortages occurring, what happens is that hospitals are being required to buy extra drugs from outsourcers, and when they do that they're actually just stockpiling them, presenting a whole slew of other issues. "The days of 'just-in-time' ordering are over," continued Shields. "Hospitals are either buying from outsourcers or buying them on a gray market. And if you run out? You're in big trouble."

2. Lowered cost-per-dose of medication
"While some drugs can be $24 per vial, which are single dose vials if a human is drawing off it, a larger vial through automation can be $2.50 a dose per vial. And you can do multiple draws off this, which means multiple dosages," Shields explained.

3. Reduced pharmacy and medication waste
"If a human draws two grams out of a ten gram vial, they have to throw away whatever's remaining. It cannot be used again," said Shields. If you have an automated system that's a fully contained, isolated unit than multiple draws from the same vial can occur because of how sterile the system is. "That's a massive savings when some drugs cost upwards to $40 or $50 a vial. If you're having to discard any, you're literally talking about throwing away thousand and thousands – if not millions – of dollars a year," Shields remarked.

4. Reduced need for medication outsourcing
Hospitals are looking for an easy way to get drugs. "When they go to an outsourcer, it's really about ease and functionality over anything else despite the fact that they're paying an exorbitant amount," said Shields. With automation, healthcare organizations can insource that drug, driving down the cost because of both that and the walkaway capability. "You just load a product in and push go. That human resource that loaded the system can then walk away for three hours while the queue is running through. They can do something else during this time," Shields said. "It's about doing more with less... or doing more with the same amount is really what it equates to: more drug perpetration with the same staff numbers."

5. Enhanced patient safety
By eliminating humans from the process, or at least by keeping them away from the actual reconstitutions in a bag or a syringe – an incredibly intricate process – errors and contamination are minimal. "What automation has over humans is that it does the same thing every time – it becomes predictable and reliable. If you load it correctly, it will never make a mistake," Shields said. It also reduces the risk of liabilities associated with drug errors. Shields explains that the error rate on any drug preparation is about 10 percent. More than half of that 10 percent error rate is attributed to intravenous drugs.