Pharmacy automation empowers physicians too

March 17, 2020

If the physician is the captain of a patient’s care, then a fully automated pharmacy is key to running a very tight ship.

At Texas Children’s Hospital, we have long recognized the value technology brings to our medication management strategy. Far from the eyes of patients and most staff, automation and intelligence software are working around the clock and behind the scenes to ensure delivery of the right dose, to the right patient, at the right time – across our health system.

Streamlining workflows, improving safety, and reducing medication waste, pharmacy automation has quietly transformed care here in the largest children’s hospital in the country – resulting in a reduction in medication spend by 16 percent annually

While pharmacy automation has driven significant improvement in pharmacy operations, what we often don’t hear about are the benefits to physicians, which are substantial. Through pharmacy technology, we are fortifying our entire organization’s ability to mitigate the possibility of medication errors, maintain patient-physician trust, leverage medication use analytics, and ultimately free up pharmacists to lend a clinical hand to our physician partners. 

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Accuracy, safety and efficiency without the worry

When a physician prescribes a medication, they expect the correct medication to get to the patient, every time. We all do. But what’s unseen are all the steps in between. From prescribing to administration, the medication management process depends on people. And no matter how great our people are, we are all subject to human error. In fact, studies show that that health systems dispensing more than five million doses of medication will experience 25,000 errors annually.

Automation and intelligence are transforming the way pharmacists manage inventory. Fully automating manual, repetitive processes like filling and counting processes will allow the pharmacist to spend more time having clinical conversations. Automation solutions also offer an added layer of security by locking the medications and providing data on the number of drugs prescribed to a community or particular patient. Through cloud-based platforms, we can capture a total view of patient health and leverage real-time data for more guided care on a patient-by-patient basis. 

Automation also helps to ensure that the physician’s orders are carried out in nearly exact, error-free detail, with minimal impact to the patient, with less delays in delivery. Which translates to better care and shorter lengths of stay. 

 

Trust is predicated on safety

So, what happens when we do see errors? In a hospital or health system, a mistake in a medication order can be deadly. That’s of course the worst-case scenario, but there are other significant implications to achieving the five rights.

The positive results of any medication are contingent upon correct and timely administration. Variations in dosages put patient care at risk and so do delays in medication administration, as some treatments depend upon specific intervals of time for absorption. 

Those are the very real therapeutic costs, but we are in jeopardy of paying another price: that of trust. Patients and their families put a great deal of trust in their physicians-and have enormous expectations of them, too. There’s a reason that there are two principles fundamentally embedded in the Hippocratic oath-not only to do good but also to do no harm. And while there are of course teams of highly skilled, committed professionals behind every physician, for patients the physician is always going to be the face of care and the captain of the ship. 

In a culture where everyone on that team is trying to operate at their very best, mistakes can still happen. All too often, the physician winds up owning a mistake, whether they were responsible or not. Leveraging automation and intelligence behind the scenes allows our pharmacy team to execute the physician’s orders, ultimately supporting that trusting relationship between patient and provider.

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Harnessing data and freeing up the pharmacist

There are two other critical ways that our automated pharmacy supply chain is enhancing physician practice in our hospital. First, our systems are collecting valuable medication use data. The ability to identify, capture, and leverage this data gives us a real-time view of our inventory and usage, helping us to control costs and improve workflows. But it also enables us to be predictive about the patient experience. 

Based on historical data, comparative analysis and scenario modeling, we can discover patterns and likelihoods. We can see that a medication, delivered at 9:00 a.m., under certain conditions, resulted in a rapid recovery time and minimal readmissions-while another variation resulted in an increase in readmissions. That’s incredibly powerful to help get patients get home faster. 

Finally, there’s the benefit of a pharmacist operating in a clinical care role. Studies show that pharmacists spend 70-75 percent of their time on repetitive, documentative tasks. The ultimate goal of the autonomous pharmacy is to get our pharmacists practicing at the top of their license. 

Imagine your pharmacists-the most knowledgeable people about medication-at the bedside with your physicians, shoulder to shoulder providing clinical support. 

It’s my hope we don’t have to imagine it much longer, and that we will soon see every pharmacist adding value to the physician’s practice and patient outcomes, all thanks to a fully automated approach to medication management.