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Robo-pharmacist readies 350,000 doses perfectly

At the University of California, San Francisco, another example of how machines are superior. But they still can't come up with a good home remedy for hiccups.

robot pharmacist at UCSF
The pharmacy robot selects medication from drawers. University of California, San Francisco

Your doctor may still be human, but your pharmacist may soon go cybernetic. A robotic drug dispensary system at the University of California, San Francisco is spitting out oral and injected medications for all kinds of patients.

Getting the wrong medication is the greatest risk facing patients under traditional pharmacy systems, according to UCSF Medical Center CEO Mark Laret. But the automated system has prepared some 350,000 doses without a single error, the institution says.

The room-size robots store drugs in dozens of small boxes in a sterile environment. After the 12-hour prescription is received as a digital file, a robot arm finds the correct labeled drug, prepares the proper dose in bar-coded plastic bags on a ring and spits them out into a large bin.

Nurses will begin scanning the bar codes at patient bedsides this year to confirm the doses are correct. Doctors, meanwhile, will begin inputting prescriptions directly into computers next year.

Three of the robots are Robotic IV Automation (RIVA) systems, made by Canada's Intelligent Hospital Systems. They also prepare hazardous chemotherapy drugs.

The robo-pharmacist can also prepare toxic chemotherapy drugs. University of California, San Francisco

Automated pharmacies are increasingly attractive to hospital administrators looking to boost speed and accuracy in drug preparation while reducing labor costs. Other robo-druggists include ForHealth Technologies' IntelliFill and Swisslog's PillPick dose packaging and storage system.

Administrators say the robots are freeing pharmacists from the mechanical aspects of their work, allowing them to work with doctors to tailor drugs to individual needs.

That's all fine and good, but I still think humans have a better bedside manner than machines. I'd even take a holographic image of a human doctor, a la Star Trek Voyager, than a mechanical pill picker. What do you think?