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Published on August 07, 2015

nano the pharmacy robot

Behind the Scenes at Avera McKennan: The Centralized Pharmacy

“What’s that thing in the hallway?” “Is that a robot?”

It’s a typical response on the Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center campus. Thinking they look like some kind of alternative R2D2 from Star Wars, I’ve noticed these little machines scooting down the halls and into elevators.

What I didn’t know was that these robots are actually controlled by the Centralized Inpatient Pharmacy located just downstairs, in the basement of Avera McKennan.

No, robots have not invaded and assumed the role of humans…at least not completely, anyway.

For Avera pharmacy staff, the Aethon TUG Robots are helping to alleviate the otherwise manual task of delivering medications all over the Avera McKennan campus. In fact, the pharmacy uses a variety of advanced technology to ensure a safe, efficient and on-time delivery.

After touring the place for myself, it’s clear that exciting things are happening downstairs.

A Well-Oiled Machine

Melissa Goff, Pharmacy Operations Manager at Avera McKennan, is used to all the curiosity about the technology the pharmacy uses on a daily basis.

“It’s funny because we are so used to it by now, but it’s always entertaining to see people’s reactions,” said Goff.

Supporting clinics, regional hospitals and critical access hospitals through an online ordering system, medications are dispensed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The basement is divided up into smaller departments for receiving, packaging, storing and distributing medicine. Once a product is received and verified, it is either sent to be packaged or stored.

The Pyxis PharmoPack high-speed packager is just one example of equipment that makes life much safer for patients and more efficient for pharmacy staff. Before, a technician would have to manually package medication to ensure the correct dosage. This new packaging equipment dispenses the right amount of medication in large quantities like a vending machine. It has proved to be a cost-saving, efficient and accurate method of packaging.

“We are registered with the FDA as a packager,” said Goff. “So there are a lot of policies and procedures we have to follow to make sure we are compliant with our registration.”

Through a barcode labeling system, each medication is scanned about four to five times before leaving the pharmacy with a medical courier or other method of delivery. This ensures that the right medication is checked in and out of the pharmacy every time.

About 50 totes are sent out each day to more than 200 clinics and hospitals, all supported through central distribution. In total, about 5,000 medication products are distributed on a daily basis.

Pharmacist Jeff DeRouchey loads a TUG to be delivered to the floors of Avera Mckennan.

Tugging Right Along

TUG robots help deliver medication to the hospital floors, especially those that are non-scheduled deliveries or controlled substances. It’s important that these substances, such as chemotherapy drugs, are temperature controlled. The robots help to ensure that happens.

The two Tug Robots in Avera McKennan are lovingly referred to as “Nano” and “Nagel,” named after the founder of the Presentation Sisters, Nano Nagel. The names were chosen after staff hosted a contest.

“Basically you push this button and send it to where you want it to go. They take the elevators and everything,” said Goff, demonstrating a monitor near the TUG charging station. “It’s all mapped out so it doesn’t vary in its route.”

For the future of the Avera McKennan Centralized Inpatient Pharmacy, Goff hopes to grow with emerging technology.

“Our hope is to expand our TUG fleet, that way we can have robots delivering medications and keep the technicians on the floor to help the nurses or wherever they are needed,” Goff said.

Pharmacy staff also use the TUGs to deliver extra joy to patients during the holiday season.

“We have fun with them,” Goff said. “At Christmas time we put stocking caps and reindeer antlers on them, or even a big red nose on the front. Patients really get a kick out of that.”

Avera Fast Facts

  • More than 2,000 orders are verified every day
  • There are 2,800 pharmacist clinical interventions each week
  • 5,000 medication products are distributed on a daily basis

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