Paul O’Hanlon, managing director of Omnicell talks about automated medication and how it could be the next step in medicine dispensing in hospitals

Is automated medicine the future for hospitals?

Paul O’Hanlon, managing director of Omnicell talks about automated medication and how it could be the next step in medicine dispensing in hospitals

Paul O'Hanlon, Omnicell

Paul O’Hanlon, Omnicell

In a day and age where we use technology in nearly everything we do isn’t it time we started to embrace technology in the same way across the whole of the NHS? By automating medication dispensing processes in the pharmacy and the ward, hospitals can achieve the efficiency and productivity needed to ensure a sustainable future.

An interim report into operational productivity within the NHS published last year by Lord Carter made it clear that hospital efficiency needed to be at a consistently high standard in every NHS Hospital and that innovation needed embracing to ensure continual improvement. With people living longer and major advancements in medication and treatments, the NHS needs to continually evolve to ensure its getting value for money.

One simple way hospitals can adapt for the future is by automating their medication dispensing and re-ordering of stock process – a solution put in place at St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight. Installation of an Omnicell central pharmacy robotic dispensing system, linking to Omnicell automated medication cabinets on the wards and Omnicell controlled drugs management, all integrated with the Trust’s electronic prescribing and administration system (JAC EPMA), is transforming the way medicines are managed and issued to patients. The system controls what is used, reduces stock levels and saves staff time while enabling the hospital to improve patient safety, clinical governance and patient care.

It’s the first time that such a comprehensive integrated dispensing and re-ordering solution has been used in a UK hospital and the results speak for themselves:

  • A 10% reduction in missed doses due to unavailability
  • An 11% reduction in the cost of medication used on the ward since installation
  • A 24% reduction in stock value for ward medicines
  • Nurses now spend less time looking for drug cupboard keys and the correct medication in storage areas and more time with their patients.
  • Pharmacy spend less time on medication distribution and more time on clinical tasks and patient care.

This revolutionary new system means medication on the wards is now stored in automated cabinets. The doctor electronically prescribes medication to a specific patient and the software then sends a message to the cabinet on the ward. Nursing staff then use fingerprint recognition to access the secure cabinets where they are directed to the prescribed medication for that patient via a unique guiding light system – reducing the risk of medication error. As medication is removed from the cabinet, the stock level automatically adjusts and when a minimum is reached the system sends a signal to central pharmacy where a robot scans the shelves for the medication needed and drops it onto a conveyor belt ready to go back into the cabinets on the ward. The robot is both quick and accurate meaning it can keep up with the 1.3 million doses dispensed in the hospital each year.

Omnicell offer a range of advanced but simple-to-use automated dispensing systems which can be integrated with electronic and prescribing administration systems and an electronic controlled drugs register. However, automation alone is not enough. To ensure hospitals get the maximum benefit from automating their processes, Omnicell puts in place a dedicated project team from the outset. The team works with the Trust to understand their needs, allowing for the development of lean processes and installation of the right blend of systems in the right places which are easy for staff to use, effective and achieve the best possible results. Ongoing support and training is then put in place to ensure the system continues to evolve and grow to meet the needs of patients and staff.

“As a result of our automated system, significant nursing time has been released for direct patient care. We know exactly where all medicines are at any one time in the hospital and we know that our patients are receiving all of the doses that the doctor has prescribed for them. The system ensures improved governance as we now replace the medication that has been given on the wards rather than just replacing what’s missing from open shelved cupboards. We can evaluate the cost of medicines to patient level, ensuring that we minimise waste and maximise efficiency,” comments Gillian Honeywell, chief pharmacist at St Mary’s Hospital.

Medicines are the most frequently used intervention in healthcare, yet there appears to be real variation in the way they are prescribed within hospitals. Our evidence from the Isle of Wight and other hospitals shows that embracing innovation and automating medication and inventory processes is delivering system wide efficiencies and cost savings. No single initiative will deliver all of the required efficiency savings in the area of pharmacy and medicines within hospitals – we know that. But system wide change is needed and the automation of dispensing systems is one of the solutions required.

A pharmacist by profession Paul is now managing director of Omnicell, UK and Ireland. Founded 24 years ago in the US, today Omnicell is a provider of medication and supply management solutions to the global healthcare market. The company specialises in improving the medication and supply distribution process from hospital to home.


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