Nanaimo hospital plans to install robotic medication distribution system

NANAIMO – Nanaimo Regional General Hospital pharmacy upgrading to automated medication delivery system.

By 2017 patients at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital will be partly under the care of robots, at least when it comes to taking their medication.

Earlier this month, Island Health announced $4.64 million for the unit dose medication distribution project that includes expansion and renovation of the pharmacy at NRGH and installation of a robotic dosage packaging and dispensary system.

The medication distribution system accounts for $2.14 million of the total project cost and is what the pharmacy renovation is being built around.

“It’s an increase to the existing allocation of space for the existing pharmacy and that new additional space will house the medication packaging equipment,” said David Leadbetter, Island Health director for smart technology and special projects.

“I hate to use the term [robot], but I do come back to it,” Leadbetter said

The automated dispensary system is about the size of two large soft drink vending machines that automatically packages, labels and dispenses from 520 different canisters of medications at one time, in the various methods they’re to be administered, be it orally, by injection or other means.

The systems prepares a “batch” of medications for the entire hospital patient population a day before they’re to be administered. Each dose is dispensed in a sealed pack that is labelled and barcoded as per medication type, dosage, method of administering and the patient’s identity.

Hospital staff distributing the medications scan a barcode on the patient’s wrist band, which is checked against the patient’s electronic health record to ensure the medication matches the prescription and the recipient.

“At that point of medication administration to the patient, we can verify that it was the right medication, it was the right time for that dose of medication, it was the right form, be it oral or IV or whatever and the right dosage,” Leadbetter said. “So there’s five ‘rights’ that this will then enable, which provides the safer medication system.”

Leadbetter said he doesn’t know to what extent there might have been a problem with improper medication administering at NRGH because the old system was based on “self-reporting.”

“We know this takes out several opportunities for mistakes and that we’re providing a safer medication system overall,” he said.

The province is covering 60 per cent and NRGH 40 per cent of the total cost of the project, which will be completed by the end of 2016.