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Pharmacy robots are filling your prescriptions - do you know the prescription error rate?

David W. Hodges
Partner at Kennedy Hodges LLP practicing pharmacy error, medical malpractice and personal injury law
Comments (0)
E-Prescriptions and error ratesE-prescriptions
The U.S. government has pumped more than $27 million into the healthcare system to help doctor's offices go paperless. The government is pushing for doctors and pharmacies to use electronic medical records, or EMR's. In fact, E-prescriptions, meant to make prescribing easier for doctors and safer for patients, are part of the push toward EMR's.
E-prescribing is supposed to be better because the doctor can check:

  • if your insurance will pay for your prescription, 
    for contraindications and possible reactions to a new drug.
E-prescribing can't eliminate errors
E-prescriptions have not reduced the number of pharmacy errors in any way. There are still transcription errors at the pharmacy, misunderstandings of dosages and use instructions. Many doctors don't even bother to check if your new prescription is safe for you, or if your insurance will cover them. They leave that to the pharmacist.
Pill Pick - How Robots are filling prescriptions
The University of California San Francisco has a teaching hospital and it also has PillPick, the pharmacy robot. This robot counts, sorts, and bags pills according to dose, drug, and the amount of pills prescribed by the doctor. The pharmacists who used to work in the hospital pharmacy now help make sure that patients are getting the right drugs, right doses, and getting them at the right time.
Pill Pick makes few errors compared to human pharmacists and the robot costs less than the yearly salaries of all those pharmacists combined to install and implement. In fact, PillPick made one error out of 350,000 prescriptions filled at the hospital pharmacy, and that was a printer error which was quickly fixed by the human operators. Some in the pharmacy field believe this robot will one day replace human pharmacists and that we will get our prescriptions filled at kiosks containing robots like PillPick.
Science Fiction, or Reality?
PillPick seems to be working well for this hospital at UCSF, and it frees pharmacists there to do what they do best - help people get the right drugs for them. As far as retail pharmacies using PillPick instead of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, it's hard to say if this is the wave of the future, or if it will fizzle out. People do like the human touch, even though there are many errors. Humans make mistakes, especially if they are rushed, tired and hungry - like many pharmacists are.
Skeptics
Many believe these robots will not replace human pharmacists and pharmacy techs. E-prescriptions have done little, if any, good in reducing pharmacy errors. Robots may change the landscape and reduce the errors, but many are skeptical of the bots replacing pharmacists.
If you or a loved one were victims of a pharmacy mistake, order our free book, "How to Make Pharmacies Pay for Your Injuries Caused by Medication Errors," to learn more about what you can do to fight back. You can also speak to our pharmacy error lawyers 24/7 at 888-526-7616 to start your free case review.
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