UCSF Automated Pharmacy Wins 2011 Popular Science "Best of What's New" Award

By Karin Rush-Monroe on November 16, 2011
Robotic pill picker and plastic bags for medication.Robotic pill picker and plastic bags for medication.

UCSF’s automated pharmacy has won a 2011 Best of What’s New award from Popular Science. The awards recognize 100 innovations that indicate where technology is headed in the future.

Each year, the publication reviews thousands of new products and innovations and chooses the top 100 winners across 11 categories for inclusion in its annual Best of What’s New issue. Winners represent products or technology that are significant steps forward.

UCSF’s automated hospital pharmacy, built at the end of 2010, uses robotic technology and electronics to prepare and track medications with the goals of improving patient safety and increasing efficiency. Believed to be the nation’s most comprehensive automated hospital pharmacy, it is the hub of UCSF’s integrated medication management system, which combines state-of the-art technology with personalized care.

To date, the automated system has assembled more than 1.5 million pill packages of patient medications without an error.

Images and B-Roll:
Robotic Pharmacy at UCSF

“For 24 years, Popular Science has honored the innovations that surprise and amaze us − those that make a positive impact on our world today and challenge our views of what’s possible in the future.” said Mark Jannot, editor-in-chief of Popular Science. “The Best of What’s New Award is the magazine’s top honor, and the 100 winners − chosen from among thousands of entrants − represent the highest level of achievement in their fields.”

Once computers at the new pharmacy electronically receive medication orders from UCSF physicians and pharmacists, the robots pick, package and dispense individual doses of pills. Machines assemble doses onto a plastic ring, each of which contains all the medications for a patient for a 12-hour period.

Registered nurses at the hospital receive each of their patients’ scheduled medications on the rings, which are barcoded and include the patient’s name, list of the medications and administration times.

“By leveraging technology, we have reduced inefficiencies which allows nurses to spend more time with their patients and makes for a safer medication administration process at UCSF Medical Center,” said Sheila Antrum, RN, UCSF Medical Center chief nursing officer and executive director of patient care services. 

Antrum oversees pharmaceutical services for UCSF Medical Center, including the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. 

“The automation also has resulted in increased satisfaction for the nurses,” she said.

By using robots instead of people for previous manual tasks, pharmacists and nurses have more time to work with physicians to determine the best drug therapy for a patient, and to monitor patients for clinical response and adverse drug reactions. The pharmacy also will enable UCSF to study new ways of medication delivery with the goal of sharing that knowledge with other hospitals across the country.

The automated systems also prepare oral and injectable medicines, including toxic chemotherapy drugs, in a tightly secured, sterile environment which creates a safer environment for pharmacy employees. An automated inventory management system keeps track of all the products, and one refrigerated and two non-refrigerated automated pharmacy warehouses provide storage and retrieval of medications and supplies.

Studies have shown that technology, including barcoding and computerized provider order entry, as well as changes in hospital processes for medication management, can help reduce errors. In addition, the new pharmacy offers a rich training ground for pharmacy students in the drug distribution systems of the future.

“While these robotics clearly increase the safety of dispensing medications to patients, they have also been proven to increase the pharmacist’s key oversight of the safe and effective use of medications in patients,” said Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, chair of the Department of Clinical Pharmacy in the UCSF School of Pharmacy and  assistant director of pharmaceutical services for the UCSF Medical Center.

Next spring, nurses at UCSF Medical Center will begin to use barcode readers to scan medication at patients’ bedsides, verifying it is the correct patient, drug and dose. As the phase-in continues, additional steps in the process will be eliminated as doctors begin inputting prescriptions directly into computers in 2012.

The facility, located at Mission Bay south of downtown San Francisco, has been awarded LEED-CI Gold certification for its sustainable building practices. The new pharmacy currently serves UCSF hospitals at Parnassus and Mount Zion and has the capacity to dispense medications for the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, scheduled to open in 2015.

All of the winners will be featured in the December special issue of Popular Science, on newsstands Nov. 15.

About UCSF and UCSF Medical Center

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.

UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital are world leaders in health care, known for innovative medicine, advanced technology and compassionate care. Our expertise covers virtually all specialties, including cancer, heart disease, infertility, neurological disorders, organ transplantation and orthopedics as well as special services for women and children. UCSF Medical Center has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the nation's top 10 premier hospitals for 10 consecutive years. 

Photo by Susan Merrell/UCSF