Technology Helps Pharmacists Avoid Cross Contamination of Medications

Health & FitnessMedicine

  • Author Lisa Flowers
  • Published December 4, 2012
  • Word count 799

One of pharmacists’ biggest concerns is patient safety, and avoiding cross-contamination of medications is of vital importance. Most of us have noticed the powdery residue in the bottom of prescription bottles. This same powdery residue can by produced by dispensing equipment in pharmacies. New technology provides a reliable solution to this problem.

Cross Contamination of Medications

The problem is that pill residue is not always the product of one drug, but the cumulative dust of many. Residue from pills can be very dangerous for obvious reasons, especially when it comes to potent medications like chemotherapy drugs, from which even trace amounts of dust can be potentially toxic. In addition, there are drugs patients may be allergic to which can range from almost any drug to certain types of antibiotics. When cross contamination occurs it can affect patient health and safety. In January of 2012, the FDA reported on an incident in which a substantial batch of opioid drugs were accidentally mixed with other drugs. This type of cross contamination is dangerous to the health of patients and must be avoided at all costs.

If it is designed properly, an Automated Dispensing System (ADS) will help alleviate—and in some cases, virtually eliminate—powdery pill residue so that it does not cross contaminate medication. For any pharmacy dispensing hundreds of prescriptions every day keeping any robotic system clean is a challenge.

Patient Safety Before ADS and After

For pharmacists still counting out pills by hand, safety is more difficult to maintain. An ADS unit using well designed vacuuming and filtration addresses this concern. This new technology utilizes a vacuum system with HEPA filtration, which is designed to filter out small particles. According to studies, HEPA filters remove up to 99% of harmful particles, on the average.

Separation of Pill Types into Cells and Chutes

Perhaps most importantly, individual medications are never dispensed in succession from the same chute. Rather, cells— in which medications are stored –and chutes—from which the pills eject as they’re counted—are separated to guarantee no cross-contamination. The proposal is simple: there can’t be cross-contamination in a cell where there has only been one drug. Cells are removable for easier cleaning and auto-calibrating, and support up to three vial sizes.

How Many Prescriptions Can an Automated Dispensing System Fill?

The higher end ADS robots are equipped to hold over 250 drugs, which in turn caps and labels the prescription vial. Photo verification means a digital photograph of the drug dispensed is snapped when it is bottled, to ensure accuracy. The photo verification system is vital, according to many professionals. "It actually snaps a picture of the drug as it’s dispensing it into the bottle," says pharmacist Jodie Lumbrazo of Medicap Pharmacy in Benson, NC. "Then it is compared to a stock photograph matched to a clinical database. There are no issues with accuracy or incorrect fills with the ADS system because you can actually look and see a picture of the drug as it looked when it went into the container, just to make sure," she added.

Increased Public Awareness of the Problem of Cross-Contamination: How New Technology Can Allay Patient Fears

Though professionals in the industry have long been aware of these problems, and have been as scrupulous as possible about preventing them, many of them now regard the technology as indispensable. Cross-contamination has become a particular concern to the public in recent years, due to increased awareness and media interest in the problem. A German study conducted in 2011 revealed five pharmacists from high-traffic pharmacies who all confirmed they had witnessed incidents of cross contamination.

New Possibilities for Patient Safety First

Pharmacists who believe patient safety comes first embrace the new technology, and customers love it, too. Clemson University recently installed an ADS at the campus pharmacy, and there’s a contest for students to name the robot. "The customers love to stand there and watch the machine, when they come in to pick up their prescriptions" says pharmacist Gavin Houchins, owner and pharmacist at Medicap Pharmacy in Mooresville, NC.

For pharmacists and pharmacy consultants who are on the fence about investing in an ADS, there is no question about the benefits of implementing this technology in their pharmacy. The discovery and invention of Penicillin and vaccines for diseases like Polio and Tuberculosis have improved patient health and longevity. The ADS pharmacy robot is revolutionizing the pharmacy work space. It manages and dispenses a complex range of medications safely and continuously. A system that actually works with drug residue and clean up in mind is one any pharmacy would do well to implement. The ADS will be received well by patients and pharmacy staff and will impact the health of patients served by providing consistency and virtually eliminating the chance of cross-contamination of prescriptions medications.

Lisa A. Flowers is a freelance writer and editor who has written extensively for the web, with a particular emphasis on the healthcare and medical industry. Visit for more information about pharmacy robots.

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