Tip of the Week: Medication Dispensing and Storage Technology in the Hospital


Technological advances enable pharmacists to evolve their practices, spend more direct time in patient care, and assist patients with self-management of their diseases.

Advances in technology were once feared by pharmacists and pharmacy staff. There are probably still remnants of that, particularly as players like Amazon have entered the market, and as available pharmacist jobs are no longer as plentiful, given the increase in number of pharmacy schools.

It is those technological advances, however, that enable pharmacists to evolve their practices, spend more direct time in patient care, and assist patients with self-management of their diseases. In the hospital setting, technology is needed to render otherwise extraordinary work volumes more feasible and to help pharmacists better manage costs.

An article in the American Hospital Association’s Hospitals & Health Networks describes 5 trends in pharmacy automation, focusing predominately on the hospital setting. They include:

  • Flexible configurations in a smaller footprint, such as flexible dispensing cabinets for easier placement by hospital administrators.
  • Smarter drawers. When a nurse goes to a typical automation cabinet to remove a medication, all 25 to 50 pockets are open, giving the nurse access to multiple medications. This is known as an open-matrix configuration. In new cabinet designs, all of the pockets are locked when the main drawer is opened, and the nurse only has access to the pocket for the needed patient medication. This increases medication security, safety and simplifies charge capture issues, and also provides a better mechanism to manage a patient’s home medications.
  • Virtual control. Replacement of old console boxes, allowing any computer to serve as a console.
  • Better inventory management. Allowing for placement of larger amounts of and more diverse floor stock throughout the hospital, while still affording system and inventory control to the pharmacy.
  • Charge-capture accuracy. Using bar coding and other technologies to make sure that patients/payers are charged for medications used or vice versa.

This article was written about 4 years ago, but its details and implications are still quite fresh. In fact, many of the things described have just come to pass or still in transition.

Hospital pharmacy managers must ensure the timeliness and accuracy of medication distribution throughout the facility, keep medication delivery systems modernized in the spirit of patient safety, and ensure that all costs and charges are accounted for.

Additional information about medication therapy management and management functions can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e. You or your institution can subscribe to AccessPharmacy to access the textbook.

Shane P. Desselle, RPh, PhD, FAPhA, is Professor of Social/Behavioral Pharmacy at Touro University California. He is author of Chapter 1: The “Management” in Medication Therapy Management and Management Functions in the textbook Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 5e.


Milliom K. 5 trends in pharmacy automation. Hosp Health Netw. 2016;90:39-40,42.

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