Prescribing Automation

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An $845,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation will fund pharmacy renovations and a new robotics system to automate the drug storage and inventory processes.

Doctors and nurses might be the most visible care providers at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, but they aren’t the only ones. Behind the scenes, pharmacists are working day and night to ensure that every patient receives the correct medication at the right time.

“People don’t realize how big the pharmacy inside the hospital is,” says Dave Jungst, PharmD, BCPS, recently retired director of the SMH Pharmacy. “We have more than 90 pharmacists on staff, whereas a busy retail outlet would have about two. It’s a very big operation.”

Over the last 20 years, the pharmacy has added about two dozen service lines, including in the ER and ICU. SMH’s pharmacists process more than 4 million medication orders annually, and they ensure that over 6 million doses make their way to patients.

Today, the SMH Pharmacy uses open shelving to store some 2,300 medications at a time. The system has historically relied on people to make sure that medications are available and accurately dosed for patients. As patient volume has increased, and medication needs have risen accordingly, the pharmacy’s systems have been challenged to keep up.

“We needed to have a way to store our medications in a more efficient manner, without increasing the footprint of the Pharmacy Department,” says Edward McLean, PharmD, BCOP, BCSCP, manager of Pharmacy Process Operations. That’s where the Healthcare Foundation came into the picture.

Automating Pharmacy Services An $845,000 grant from the Healthcare Foundation will help fund pharmacy renovations and a new robotics system to automate the drug storage and inventory process. “It’s a high-density storage containment system, which has robotics within it that allow us to pick medications at a more efficient rate,” McLean says.

The system, which is expected to be operational by August 2022, will also “put more medications into a smaller footprint,” taking better advantage of the limited space the pharmacy currently occupies to accommodate an increasing patient volume.

One of the goals of the robotics system is to increase efficiency by 50 percent. “We’re pulling millions of doses a year,” Jungst says. “This will provide one more safety layer.”

Streamlining Patient Care
Though patients may never see this high-tech drug storage and distribution system in action, they will benefit from it. Faster and more efficient medication distribution means fewer disruptions in patient care. It also frees up pharmacists to spend more of their time working with patients instead of having to focus on drug distribution, McLean says.

The generosity of the Healthcare Foundation’s donors continues to keep the hospital well-resourced, helping maintain its level of excellence, according to Jungst. “This project takes what is pretty much a manual process and makes it more efficient. It gives us an extra tool to do more without the need to increase people resources.”

For Jungst, the robotics upgrade was a five-year passion project that was coming to fruition right before he retired on April 15. “This is one of the things that has been on my radar for a long time,” he says. “It’s been one of the many boxes that I’ve been wanting to check off, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Healthcare Foundation and its donors.”

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