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Automated dispensing is a pharmacy practice in which a device fills prescriptions and dispenses medications. Cabinets that can dispense hundreds of different medications are available from various manufacturers. Members of the pharmacy community have been utilizing this technology since the 1980s, and companies are constantly refining and improving it to meet changing needs within the industry. Many hospitals and healthcare plans have adopted this technology for use in their pharmacies and on their wards.
Several goals can be met through the use of automated dispensing. The first is a reduction of human errors, such as dispensing the wrong medication, dispensing an improper amount of the medication or failing to label medications properly. This can help with errors for both inpatient and outpatient medications. Another benefit is an improvement in efficiency, which can be a major concern in a busy pharmacy; using an automated dispensing system can speed the process of filling prescriptions while cutting down on costs. This technology also can be used to automatically log medications, users of the equipment and inventory.
At the bedside, automated dispensing can be used to manage medications for an inpatient who needs many medications. Access is restricted to authorized users, such as nurses, who are able to access medications as needed for the patient. Errors still can occur, because medication can be brought in from outside or might be used improperly when it comes from the cabinet, but the frequency of errors tends to be reduced overall, increasing patient safety.
A nursing station also can utilize an automated dispensing cabinet so that nurses can access common medications quickly and easily. This cuts down on trips to the pharmacy or to a storage closet elsewhere on the ward, making the nursing staff more efficient. In the case of cabinets on wards, pharmacy employees can periodically fill the cabinet based on usage needs. The cabinet also can maintain electronic records that can be used to signal the need for a refill and to track activity on the ward.
Pharmacies also use medication dispensing technology to fill prescriptions. Some systems can be entirely automatic, filling a container with the proper amount when the pharmacy receives a prescription or refill order. The system can label the medication and put it out for a pharmacist to inspect and approve before releasing it to the patient. These systems can reduce the amount of work for pharmacy staff members, allowing them to focus on more complicated tasks that cannot be completed by an automated system.