The experienced medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell understand that improvements in safety procedures for dispensing medications to hospital patients is an issue of utmost importance. Indeed, some studies have shown that as many as 4% of hospitalized patients, or one out of every 25, is the victim of a medical error. This adds up to somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths each year in the U.S. And various studies have shown that medical errors associated with preventable medication problems make up somewhere between 20% and 56% of hospital medical errors.
Now, Memorial Medical Center has taken what might be seen as a drastic step – replacing traditional, human-dispensed prescriptions for hospital inpatients with robotic pharmacists who automatically fill prescriptions. Memorial Medical Center spent $1.5 million on the two new machines, which are part of an initiative to reduce medication errors and related injuries and deaths.
Before the purchase of the new machines, hospital prescriptions were filled by human pharmacists, who found the required medicines by digging through bins and drawers. Now, high-tech machines select the appropriate medicines and dispense them on plastic rings for distribution to patients.
The new machines at Memorial are responsible for sorting, packaging, and even restocking unused medications. The first machine, which hospital staff have affectionately dubbed “Rosie,” is responsible for pills. The second machine, nicknamed “Bob,” handles larger items, including ointments and syringes.
And the machine does much more than dispense medicine. It also keeps track of recalls and removes affected pills, and keeps track of the expiration date of medicines and removes them accordingly. Such pill-by-pill attention to recall and expiration is an advance our medical malpractice lawyers applaud.
One other Illinois hospital has invested in a similar pharmacy machine – Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood. These two hospitals are among only 20 or 30 hospitals throughout North America who have put such machines in place. Other hospitals have adopted other means of automation, including using barcodes that interact with a patient’s electronic medical records and installing smaller automatic dispensers at nurses’ stations.
It cannot be denied that this new technology has improved patient safety and care. Memorial reports that since the machines were activated, drug-dispensing errors have dropped to almost zero. And the technology frees up pharmacists to focus on areas where their skills are truly needed, such as selecting appropriate medications for particular patients and in difficult cases.
Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys still have concerns with this new system. These robotic pharmacists, like any machines or technology, are only as good as the information which humans provide. All it would take is an error by those stocking the machines to end up right back where we started: patients becoming injured or disabled, or losing their lives, due to medication error. And this consequence could be exacerbated if those who actually administer drugs to patients come to rely upon the new technologies, become complacent, and do not double check medicines and doses before providing them to patients.
We urge the nurses, physicians, and staff at Memorial to not allow the new system to substitute for good, old-fashioned care and human double-checking of all medicines before they are given to patients.
We will withhold our final judgment, however, until we see the real, long-term effects of the new system. Although we are cautious, we remain optimistic that, properly used, these new machines will prove to be a much-needed advance in patient safety.
For a Free Consultation with a top-rated Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.