A Robot in the Pharmacy

Robotic creation of IV solutions in hospital pharmacies reduces errors and saves money.

When pharmacist Rita K. Jew saw a robot that mixes intravenous drugs at an industry event, she instantly knew she wanted it for her own hospital.

"This is definitely a breakthrough in technology," says Jew, executive director of pharmacy and nutrition services at Children's Hospital of Orange County in California.

Despite medical and technological advances, most hospital pharmacies still prepare intravenous drug solutions manually. But the founders of medical equipment maker Intelligent Hospital Systems believed they could use technology to do the job in a safer, cheaper and more efficient manner. The result is RIVA, which fully automates the preparation of IV solutions in hospital pharmacies. RIVA, whose name is short for Robotic IV Automation, took the winner's spot in the manufacturing category of the 2009 Computerworld Honors program.

"This is an example of how technology is being applied to do something better," says Roger A. Edwards, an assistant professor in the departments of pharmacy practice and health sciences at Northeastern University in Boston.

The common practice of mixing IV drug compounds by hand is time-consuming and susceptible to mistakes, says Luci A. Power, senior pharmacy consultant at San Francisco-based Power Enterprises, who works with Intelligent Hospital Systems.

"Many errors have resulted from this manual compounding, and much microbial contamination has been documented in this compounding," she says. "As long as humans compound IV drug therapy, there are problems to contend with. The use of robotics alleviates many of these issues."

Filling a Need

The idea for a pharmacy robot came from a hospital, says Thom Doherty, chief technology officer at Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Intelligent Hospital Systems. Market research confirmed that pharmacists wanted an in-house automated system that could mix IV drug compounds, he says.

Intelligent Hospital Systems was formed in 2004 to develop such a robot, bringing together a team of mechanical, electrical and computer engineers to do the job. Although each discipline was crucial, Doherty acknowledges that "it's the software that drives all the components."

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