Pharmacy automation to improve healthcare outcomes

Sumit Dutta

Neo Products Group is a Melbourne based innovator, designer and manufacturer of self-service technologies.  Neo has a fast-emerging footprint in the medical device market and in automated medicine dispensing. In this article they explain the growing role of automation in healthcare.

Outpatient Pharmacy Automation


Improving affordable health outcomes is driving a significant shift in the healthcare delivery ecosystem. Care-providers are being overwhelmed by patient demand while being held increasingly accountable for patient outcomes and shrinking profit margins.

The legacy ‘one-on-one’ care delivery model must evolve to include more forms of automation such as telemedicine and kiosk-based healthcare.

Hospital pharmacies are missing out on good margin revenue opportunities because the expansion of brick-and-mortar pharmacies are cost-prohibitive, resulting in a loss of discharge and outpatient prescription drug dispensing volume.

With the well-advanced development of an automated prescription dispensing kiosk, Neo is well positioned to launch a direct-to-patient prescription delivery system that enables health systems to grow good margin revenues, while delivering higher patient satisfaction and health outcomes.

International market trends for outpatient pharmacy indicate continued growth as hospitals strive to capture more patient discharge prescriptions.  Outpatient pharmacy remains concentrated in the larger hospitals but is missing from smaller satellite or affiliate hospitals.

The lack of outpatient pharmacies at rural locations represents a further automation opportunity.

International data also suggests facilities of all sizes are planning to extend their current outpatient pharmacy services.  The strongest expansion is projected to occur in hospitals with more than 200 beds, with expanded outpatient pharmacy services driving new revenues at increasing margins.

Pharmacy automation growth in recent years has been mostly in robotic dispensing and automated pill counters. This growth is projected to continue. However, there is no installed base of automated point-of-care (POC) prescription kiosk dispensing systems. (Pharmacy Purchasing & products, “State of Pharmacy Automation”, 2015 National Survey, Sept 2015)

We believe growth in outpatient pharmacy, along with the opportunity to capture more discharge prescriptions at higher margins represents an unrealized market expansion opportunity for hospitals.

Direct-to-outpatient dispensing will extend outpatient pharmacy automation in hospitals and other health systems through a POC prescription drug dispensing kiosk that supports 24/7 hospital dispensing, provides patient convenience, increases hospital outpatient pharmacy volume, improves pharmacy efficiency and flow, reduces costs by dispensing at lower cost per prescription and drives improved health outcomes.

The opportunity is to expand hospital and health system solutions beyond inpatient pharmacy to outpatient pharmacy and establish POC direct-to-patient kiosk dispensing as the cornerstone to improved health outcomes.

Automated Prescription Dispensers

International experience has demonstrated advantages in the use of remote medicine dispensing kiosks. Medicine dispensing machines have been used in hospitals and emergency services for many years and are currently being successfully used overseas.

The Canadian government recently implemented the use of dispensing machines to improve access to medicines for people living in rural and remote communities who do not otherwise have easy access to a pharmacy. These remote dispensing systems allow patients to communicate with a pharmacist, who might be located elsewhere, via videoconferencing.

These dispensing machines incorporate  touchscreen and a phone. Patients scan their script into the kiosk, establish a video link to a registered pharmacist who has full control over the dispensing process, including being able to ask questions and provide patients with advice about medicines being dispensed. 

Dispensing kiosks offer the advantage of early access to medications for both emergencies and definitive care while minimizing the need for a mail-order pharmacy or patient travel. Robotic dispensing in hospitals is now commonplace in the United Kingdom allowing staff more time to deliver direct patient are and allow for medicine optimization. This is also occurring in community pharmacy, where recent studies have shown that incorporating robotics into pharmaceutical dispensing has yielded positive results.

For example, a qualitative survey at Sunderland Royal Hospital pharmacy in 2012 suggested that a robotic dispensing machine, linked to an electronic prescribing system, not only increased efficiency but also enhanced the professional aspects of clinical pharmacy.

The United Kingdom National Health Service has also begun trialing remote dispensing machines (like those in Canada), which aim to reduce dispensary queues and improve access in remote locations.                             

Results from these trials have shown that these machines are a viable alternative to conventional pharmacies and can reduce costs but will never fully replace conventional pharmacies.

Trialing the use of machine dispensing in a small number of relevant, secure locations in communities that are not adequately served by a community pharmacy would be a very useful exercise. Such machine dispensing would be appropriately supervised and allow real-time interaction with a remote pharmacist with the range of PBS medicines being limited and based on an assessment of risk.

Machine dispensing applications can be assisted and facilitated by  system of electronic prescriptions.  In the interim, testing the feasibility and security of remote machine dispensing under Australia’s current ‘paper based’ prescription system would be worthwhile.

This article was originally posted here