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Hospitals Use IV Robots to Reduce Medication Errors and Injuries

Gabriel Assaad
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Partner and attorney at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing personal injury, medical malpractice & product liability
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Whether they need emergency care, surgery, or an inpatient treatment, people rely on intravenous (IV) medications every single day. Unfortunately, these solutions must be mixed by hospital staff members, and can easily cause disastrous effects if they are not combined and administered properly.

As the need for IV medication has increased, so has the number of medication errors. According to a report from the Institute for Medicine, approximately 7,000 deaths and millions of sicknesses nationwide occur due to drug errors every year—and errors in IV compounding are among the mistakes most likely to cause patient harm.

Robotic IV Systems Help Prevent Infections and Drug Errors in Hospitals

Many hospitals have taken a creative approach to the problem: allowing robotic systems to create the IV solutions. Since medication mistakes are overwhelmingly caused by human error, advanced robotic dispensing systems allow IV preparations to be made and dispensed without touching human hands.

The first machine created for the purpose, known as RIVA, has accurately prepared more over a million medication doses since it was introduced in 2008. The robotic device automatically prepares medications for administration via syringes or IV bags, all while protecting them in its own sterile environment. In the past several years, similar machines have been installed in hospitals and in compounding pharmacies, allowing institutions to protect patients from:

  • Dosage errors. Administering an incorrect dose can cause a patient not to respond to treatment, while too much of a medication can cause overdose and even death. Nurses who are overworked, are fatigued, or who simply misread a chart can easily mix or administer an improper dosage of medication. Automated IV systems measure and weigh each dosage with a scale, ensuring the proper amount of each drug is given.
     
  • Wrong medications. Unlike people, IV machines are not capable of confusing look-alike and sound-alike medications. In addition to keeping its own record of every product it uses, the machine also provides a label that includes the name and picture of every dispensed drug for easy reference by the medical professional.
     
  • Patient errors. Drugs must contain the correct medicine and dosage, but they must also be given to the right patient. These machines use databases to store drug order information as well as confidential patient information, allowing them to cross-reference the orders they are given. Many use barcodes that can be scanned on the prescription label as well as the patient’s wristband, ensuring proper delivery.
     
  • Contamination. Mixing IV drugs by hand is not only time-consuming, it is also a common source of bacterial and fungal contamination. Pharmaceutical preparation often takes place in non-sterile areas, allowing patients to be infected through their medication at a time when their immune systems may be compromised. Automated IV dispensaries mix all solutions in a sterile environment, and regularly disinfect the prep area using UV lighting and dedicated clean air flow.
     
  • Supplier errors. Automatic IV machines can be used to compound patient-specific medications, but also to make large batches of frequently-used products. This saves nurses endless hours of compounding, while also ensuring that each item in the batch is identical. As hospitals can make whole batches of commonly-used IV drip bags, they do not need to rely on medical suppliers, allowing them better control over their inventory. The result is less waste, fewer medication shortages, and a greater likelihood of having the ideal medication on hand for each patient. In addition, batch medications mixed by the hospital are less likely to be affected by manufacturer contamination or compounding recalls.

Since their introduction, robotic IV systems have grown more and more sophisticated to deal with the demand for medication. Many dispensing units now have two arms instead of one, allowing for easier and faster compounding of medications. Others are able to complete daily reports of all of the medications dispensed, perform self-cleaning routines, and even reject prescription orders if the drug or dosage ordered is incorrect.

If you were injured because of an incorrect IV medication or dosage, we can help. Please fill out the contact form on this page to tell us your story and learn more.

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