A Robot in the Pharmacy

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

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Cornel Van Egmond, a senior software developer at Intelligent Hospital Systems, says RIVA's software has two key parts: a user interface and back-end logic that controls the system.

Van Egmond says that nearly all the software for RIVA was written in-house. The team selected Windows XP as RIVA's operating system and wrote in C# for the .Net 2.0 platform.

The company used some off-the-shelf hardware, including robotic grippers and programmable logic controllers.

Doherty and Van Egmond say one of the biggest challenges was that pharmacists wanted to be able to continue working with the lab equipment they already used; for example, they didn't want to switch to proprietary syringes and vials to accommodate the robot.

Therefore, Intelligent Hospital Systems engineers had to design a robot that could handle pieces of equipment that weren't uniform in size or shape.

Engineers turned to technology to solve that problem, Doherty says. RIVA uses a relational database to hold the data that determines the robot's movements for handling equipment. The database also stores the processing steps used to prepare the IV products. RIVA uses its database to understand how to accept input products (syringes, IV bags and vials, for example) that are of varying dimensions.

RIVA also uses a relational database to securely store drug order information, confidential patient information and other important data.

The engineers decided to use Sybase Inc.'s SQL Anywhere relational database for those purposes; they determined that it's well suited to serve as an embedded application because of its low overhead and small footprint.

"It's basic engineering, but it's how it came together and integrated all the hardware and all these systems to make them work in concert that's the real accomplishment," Van Egmond says.

The resulting self-contained robot is 5 feet wide, 10 feet long and 8 feet tall. RIVA works in a closed environment, thereby reducing human exposure to medicines and protecting both people and drugs from contamination.

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