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The role of a pharmacy in healthcare is to control drug availability, dispense drugs and ensure safety precautions of the drugs for the patients are met. Traditionally, a pharmacist found, counted and packaged the drugs without any help from automatic systems. Technological advances and systems are also available for the pharmacy, which can take over some roles from the pharmacist. Pharmacy automation can potentially reduce human error and keep control of stock, but robotic systems can be expensive to install and maintain.
In each pharmacy, the drugs are normally under strict control. The pharmacy staff keep the medications organized and stocked, a role a pharmacy automation system can also perform. A machine can keep count of the stock, and also of details such as the expiry date of the medication. With pharmacy automation, the stock may also be kept securely locked so that only approved staff can access it, and the removals may also be monitored. Sometimes a pharmacist has to count out pills, but this time consuming job could be replaced with an automatic pill counter, which first found a place in pharmacies in the 1970s as a forerunner to more complex pharmacy automation.
Errors in medication are a significant risk faced by pharmacies, as the pharmacist can fall prey to human error. With pharmacy automation systems, however, the rate of incorrect prescriptions can be reduced. Instead of a person mistaking one medicine for another with a similar name, the machine can instead read the barcode of a product and display information on a screen. If the doctor's prescription also contains a barcode, then the machine can compare the two for extra accuracy.
Handwritten prescriptions can also be illegible, which presents another danger for the patient, in case the pharmacist gives out the wrong medicine. Using a pharmacy automation system that covers both the doctor's surgery and the pharmacy can prevent this problem. Possible features of a pharmacy automation system include the possibility for the pharmacist to access more information than is detailed on the product insert, if he or she needs to.
If a hospital or clinic has a pharmacy automation system, it has the potential to reduce errors and prevent patients receiving dangerous medication. A patient could have an automated chart of his or her illness, and the medications that are suitable for the condition, along with a list of medications that are not. A nurse could then scan the person's chart to get the appropriate drug, and ensure inappropriate drugs are not accidentally prescribed.
Disadvantages of an automated system include the expense of the machinery, although the cost can be offset by a reduction in the amount of staff necessary to control and give out the drugs. In addition, automatic systems can break down, or people can circumvent them and reduce their efficacy by breaking usage rules. Examples include the use of another person's identification or mixing up patient prescriptions.