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Robotic prescription drug machines can prevent, or cause, errors

In an effort to cut down on prescription errors, many large pharmacy chains in New Mexico and elsewhere are starting to use automated machines to fill their customers’ orders. The idea is that a computerized machine is less likely to make the mistakes that lead to medication errors, such as giving a patient the wrong medication, or the wrong dosage.

But just as with any machine, it is only as safe and effective as the human being operating it. As a doctor with watchdog group Public Citizen noted, a person still has to fill the machine with the medications. If that person mixes up which medicine goes where, a patient could still get the wrong drug or the wrong dosage.

In addition, the convenience of the machine may create pressure on pharmacists to work faster, which could cause some errors. One pharmacist with a national chain said that after his drug store got one of the machines, his store was expected to fill up to 900 prescriptions a day. If the machine ran out of a particular drug, he and his colleagues would fill prescriptions manually.

One day, a bottle was partially filled with an incorrect dosage. After that, and following an error by a machine elsewhere, the pharmacist’s employer changed its system to cut down on possible computer errors.

Overall, however, Public Citizen believes that the medication dispensing machines improve the medication error rate. And anything that reduces the odds that a patient will be given an improper medicine is a good thing.

Source: Comcast SportsNet Baltimore, “Prescription for Error? Pharmacy Robots,” Feb. 24, 2014

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