October 28, 2011

To improve care and cut costs, UCMC shifts to automatic

The University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) has invested millions of dollars in new technology that promises to deliver medication faster and reduce inventory costs.

At an approximate cost of $5.6 million, an automated system for distributing medication will reduce maintenance costs and improve storage capacity, replacing decades-old technology. The new dispensers are estimated to save $60,000 a year in inventory management, according to an October article in Pharmacy Practice News.

The transition will begin in January 2012 and will be completed by 2013, according to Vice President and Chief Pharmacy Officer of Pharmaceutical Services David Hicks.

Under the current hospital system, doctors prescribe medications digitally using the Epic medical records system, which are then reviewed by pharmacists, Hicks said. Once the pharmacist approves the medication, the container for the medicine is sealed by robot and placed in a tub, which is delivered to specific wards within the hospital by pneumatic tube or hourly technician visits.

When the medications arrive, the nurses must sort through the bins to find the medicine, occasionally resulting in lost doses, Hicks said. Under the new system provided by Omnicell, “medical ATMs” will be located throughout the hospital, so that once a new prescription is approved, the machine will dispense the exact required dose.

The new Omnicell dispensers will only have to be refilled once or twice daily, and make 90 percent of all medicine in stock immediately available to nurses, Hicks said.

The dispensers, which can be unlocked only by the technicians, will also save nurses about 80 minutes a day that could be spent on inventory. The dispensers will save patients time as well, reducing the time to fill prescriptions from around 50 minutes to around 20 minutes on average, according to Hicks.

Ambulatory clinics and other outpatient buildings will transition to the same systems by 2013, though they currently operate slightly differently from the UCMC, Hicks said.