The pharmacy automation market is expected to make great strides in the coming years. Industry requirements and the increasing demand for accuracy, safety, and competency within the pharmacy by health care professionals, patients, regulatory bodies, and manufacturers are driving this market.
An analysis of global trends in pharmacy automation by BCC Research found that the global market for pharmacy automation rose from $2.1 billion in 2006 to $2.3 billion in 2007. In its March 2008 report, the researchers forecast that the market should reach $3.6 billion by 2012, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.4%. By 2012, the inpatient pharmacy automation market is expected to be worth almost $2.9 billion, a CAGR of 9.9%. The outpatient market is poised to continue to experience moderate growth through 2012, with a CAGR of 7.8% over the next 5 years.
Whereas pharmacy automation systems date back several decades and were originally intended for high-volume pharmacies, the landscape has changed, and more offerings are available for pharmacies that dispense 100 to >1000 prescriptions a day.
Registered Pharmacist Dick Bradley, pharmacy consultant for QS/1, attributes the increases in prescription volume to the baby boom patient population taking more pills. Furthermore, the pharmacist shortage is leaving pharmacies shortstaffed. These 2 components leave room "for potential drug errors as pharmacies get more and more busy, and this is where automation comes in handy."
QS/1, located in Spartanburg, North Carolina, offers the QDM dispensing machine for all types of pharmacies. The QDM, which integrates with the company's NRx Pharmacy Management System, can automate a pharmacy's top-selling drugs for improved efficiency and pharmacy productivity. The machine takes the repetitive manual counting process out of the equation and frees pharmacists to concentrate on patient counseling and other patient care services. The machine can count multiple drugs and precount minimum quantities simultaneously, so they are ready for dispensing.
Aside from built-in patient safety features such as password protection, QDM prevents cross-contamination of medicines with a design that uses separate cells and chutes for medication. The machine also tracks lot numbers and expiration dates in conjunction with bar-code scanning and safeguard features to prevent dispensing and restocking errors. For even greater dispensing safety, the QDM monitor displays patient, drug, and prescription information and can display a full-color image of a drug. The compact modular design allows the QDM to fit into most existing pharmacies. The dispensing machine is available in floor models, end-cap models, and counter models.
The cost ranges from $8000 to $50,000 depending on the model and the number of pills dispensed, said Bradley. "The machines can be tailored to meet specific pharmacy needs. A rural store, for example, may not have a need for a $50,000 machine, but an $8000 machine can help streamline prescription dispensing."
Reliability and operability is paramount for QS/1. Before QDM was available for purchase, it was used at 4 test site pharmacies built by the company. "We didn't sell one for a year because we wanted to have all the data and kinks worked out. When the product arrives at the store, the pharmacy knows it's going to be reliable."
For more than 30 years, Lake Forest, Illinois?based Kirby Lester has stuck to its core business?counting technology. "Even with the new technologies, we don't stray too far from what we're good at?bringing affordable technology" to pharmacies, explained Christopher Thomsen, vice president, business development for the company.
Kirby Lester believes pharmacist involvement is crucial when it comes to new technology. "Our current systems have been developed with pharmacists at the regional and independent levels, and we also have an advisory board," said Thomsen.
The company's KL series for retail pharmacies offers compact counting technology that fits each pharmacy's specific needs. The newest in the KL suite of products is the KL20 pharmacy counting and verification system with important advances in workflow management, order tracking, and patient medication safety. The KL20 incorporates 1- or 2-way interfacing with pharmacy management systems. It features all new software, large touch-screen, and user-friendly directions. The pharmacy staff benefits from onsite control of bar-code setup, simple verification steps, and ability to turn workflow software features on and off.
The KL15 series is Kirby Lester's basic counting system, in existence for more than 3 decades. The KL15e features fast, accurate counting without adjustments for different products. The ergonomic design speeds counting at a rate of 15 to 18 tablets per second. The KL15i has the basic counting system of the KL15e plus an integrated bar-code scanner. The bar-code scanning provides accurate patient prescription label and stock bottle match. The KL system also includes the KL16 and KL25.
Education is another important component for successful implementation of technology. Thomsen, who has coauthored several textbooks on pharmacy automation and technology, travels around the world to speak on this topic.
ScriptPro does not believe in going through generations of products. Instead, the company is "relentless with making their products better. Changing technology is painful enough," said Michael Coughlin, president and chief executive officer for ScriptPro. The Mission, Kansas?based company is able to maintain its robotic dispensing models by taking care of the products sold, improving the models, and expanding its suite of products that work together. ScriptPro upgrades its robots in the field as changes are made.
Coughlin said automation continues to be vital because "it takes a lot of potential errors out of the hands of people who can make them. Automation verifies that all prescriptions are for the right person through the use of software and bar codes."
ScriptPro's series of robotic dispensing systems include the SP 200, SP 50, SP 100, SPUD, Mini SPUD, SPace, and SPace 200. The SP 200 and SP 50 interfaces with the pharmacy computer systems to fill, label, and deliver up to 150 prescriptions per hour. The SP contains 200 universal dispensing cells, compared with 50 universal dispensing cells in the SP 50.
Both systems use bar codes throughout the process for accuracy and quality control; prints and applies the prescription and auxiliary labels, and delivers uncapped vials for final inspection using onscreen drug image verification; and the pharmacy staff manages the dispensing process from prescription entry to approval of the finished product.
The SPace 200 solution geared toward community and ambulatory pharmacies is designed for pharmacies that have a high volume of prescriptions in a small footprint. The system combines the prescription filling, labeling, verification, and dispensing of tablets, capsules, and unit-of-use medications at one workstation. The SPace 200 delivers filled and labeled prescription vials directly to the pharmacy staff for verification and capping. Unit-of-use medications are delivered to the pharmacy staff for automated labeling following a barcode scan match. It holds 200 of the pharmacy's top-selling tablets and capsules and approximately 800 unit-of-use medications.
As for the future of automation, Coughlin said the primary change is "more and more adoption of the technology and more integration of systems."
Pharmacies will continue to see new opportunities in the automation arena. The advancements and performance improvements will allow pharmacies to improve their efficiencies and allocate more time to patient counseling.