Cardinal Health Upgrades Automation

AUGUST 01, 2005

Many hospitals have invested in technology to automate everyday tasks, allowing them to lower costs and make the best use of the expertise of staff pharmacists. Some of these hospitals use Pyxis MedStations from Cardinal Health Inc, of San Diego, Calif, to dispense drugs from their pharmacies.

Now Cardinal plans to take automation to the next level by broadening its product line to include a carousel drug storage system, an oral solid medication packaging system, and a bar code labeling system, all integrated with its existing MedStation and other products. As a result, the company claims it will have the broadest pharmacy automation line available, capable of handling pharmacy functions from ordering to dispensing. Some of the goals of the upgrade are to improve service levels and inventory management, reduce errors, and cut storage space requirements.

The increasing level of automation takes hospital pharmacists out of the role of "pill counter" and allows them to play a more strategic role. "It frees up the pharmacist for more clinical work, such as interventions or working with physicians on care plans," says Chris Buckley, vice president of marketing, medication, and information products for Cardinal Health's Pyxis products.

The additional products are the result of a deal with Integrated Healthcare Systems Inc, which makes the technology. They include: the Pyxis Carousel, a pharmacy drug storage and retrieval system with AutoPharm inventory management software; the Pyxis Oral Solid Packager, which puts bulk drugs into single-or multidose packages at up to 60 doses per minute; and the Pyxis Bar Code Labeler system, which individually bar-codes items for verification throughout the medication-use process, including vials, creams, and other products.

These new products address the concerns of pharmacists regarding inventory management for an ever-growing array of medicines, Buckley says. For instance, the Pyxis Carousel significantly cuts the floor space needed for drug storage— by up to 50%, according to the company—while improving security and speeding the delivery of drugs.

Because the new products are integrated with each other and with the existing Pyxis line, they can work together to automate functions such as replenishment, Buckley says. When the level of a medication in a hospital MedStation reaches a preset minimum, the machine sends a message to the pharmacy system. Then, when the pharmacist schedules inventory replenishment for each MedStation, the system can determine whether the drugs are in the carousel, or whether it needs to direct the Pyxis Oral Solid Packager to package them from stock.

The carousel uses "pick-to-light" technology: As the pharmacist gets medications from the carousel, the system moves required medications into position and lights the appropriate area. "Medication comes to the pharmacist, instead of the pharmacist walking all over the pharmacy trying to find it," Buckley says.

The bar code labeling system averages about 30 labels per minute, and is useful for items that are not bar coded by the manufacturer. The Pyxis system also uses bar coding to uniquely identify items loaded into a MedStation by a technician, so that their identity can be verified at bedside, ensuring that the right medication goes to the right patient.

Buckley notes that the new products are integrated with other recent additions to the Pyxis products, such as the MedStation 3000, the latest in its line of automated dispensing systems, which was introduced in the fall of 2004. Because many physicians still handwrite prescriptions, one feature that has proved particularly useful is the ability to electronically image handwritten prescriptions. The images are transmitted through the pharmacy system and are placed in an electronic queue awaiting processing by the pharmacist. Nurses can view the status of the prescription using Pyxis Connect order management software, allowing them to keep patients informed and avoid unnecessary trips to the pharmacy.

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