Robotic equipment making LTC pharmacies quicker

When medications arrive at a skilled nursing facility from a long-term care pharmacy hub, chances are it was not just a team of people who helped them get there: Robotic technology likely was also involved.

In order to improve efficiency and accuracy, companies such as Omnicare have invested heavily in systems like its On Demand Express Two and Automated Label Verification.

In an Omnicare hub in Des Plaines, IL, the OnDemand Express II machine whirs as a robotic arm grabs the card, reads the bar code, and makes sure the medication corresponds to the patient. The machine can push out 10 cards in a minute, a huge jump over the company’s first OnDemand, which could do four cards in a minute. The OnDemand system also can create blister packs for medications started at mid-month.

In another corner at Omnicare, the ALV sits next to rows of medication. It debuted in 2008 after three years of design and testing, said Michael J. Szesko, Vice President of Automation at Omnicare. As an order is sent through, a row of meds will light up and tell the pharmacist to grab, for example, three packs of Seroquel. Those are dropped into the ALV, which reads everything by bar code and pushes it through to an auditing arm before another robot drops it into a regional area row.

“There have been zero errors since the ALV started,” Szesko says. “It’s always the right prescription to the right person.”

Although it’s a leader, Omnicare, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, isn’t alone in using robotic technology. Fred Burke, the CEO and co-founder of Guardian Pharmacy, says the company has been evaluating automated dispensing options.

“We’ve invested heavily in technology to improve accuracy of dispensing,” he explained. “[Probably] 80% of our pharmacies are using some sort of automated, new robotic equipment.”