4 Ways Pharma-Robots Could Change Health Care

By Devin Partida, Editor-in-Chief, ReHack.com
Twitter: @rehackmagazine

Robotic machines are becoming more common in numerous industries. Here are four thought-provoking ways that robotics in pharmaceuticals could improve that segment of the medical sector:

1. Supporting Humans’ Tasks
Robots can stop humans from spending so much time on repetitive or time-consuming tasks. For example, collaborative robots — often called cobots — work alongside humans and help them complete jobs faster than they would without that high-tech help. Robots can assist with pharmaceutical manufacturing’s repetitive tasks, such as placing medications into bottles, screwing on caps or arranging containers in the right orientations for packing.

Some of the major companies utilizing BigPharma robots hope these innovations will help them stay competitive in an always-challenging marketplace. Opportunities also exist for moving products between different areas of a warehouse. Mobile robots move freely around spaces to transport goods while maneuvering around people or other obstacles.

These capabilities give people more time to focus on other tasks that require more high-level thinking. Increased investments in pharmaceutical robots could also help staff members keep output levels high, even during personnel shortages.

2. Saving Money
Pharmacy automation also creates opportunities to cut costs. Due to that result, organizational leaders could find themselves with more money in their budgets to deal with unexpected or pressing issues.

Texas Children’s Hospital expected to save 16% on medication inventory costs per year after introducing automation. Some of the implemented technologies include smart medication cabinets and dosage pumps, plus an automated system that shows the precise pharmaceutical inventory on hand at any time.

Many automated products feature aspects that ensure people get the right medications and amounts. These abilities enable organizations to keep costs down by avoiding issues that could result in health complications stemming from adverse reactions to different medicines.

3. Preventing Fungal Contamination
Microbial contamination is one of the major reasons for pharmaceutical recalls and other manufacturing challenges. Pharmaceutical workers must correctly identify the culprits to understand how to address them. When assessing a fungal contamination problem, technicians use phenotypic identification through conventionally available methods.

Numerous things can cause fungal contamination in pharmaceutical facilities, including air, water and employees’ failure to follow the proper procedures to safeguard against the problem. Pharmaceutical companies create and maintain clean rooms, where impurities in the air become virtually nonexistent. Nine International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards dictate the acceptable quantity and size of particulate matter per volume of air.

Many robotics manufacturers keep those clean room standards in mind when developing new models. One company recently released a robot specifically for clean rooms. It supports rapid assembly, pick-and-place and material handling tasks. Since robots can reduce the number of people required to manage tasks, they could help prevent fungal contamination and other impurities that could make medication dangerous to consume.

4. Dispensing Medications Faster
At one California hospital, doctors collectively oversee approximately 600 patients per day, each taking an average of 10 medicines during their stays. That facility is like many others in that it invested in machines that work behind the scenes to help pharmacists fill requests more efficiently.

Similarly, pharmacists at a hospital in the United Kingdom dispense 18,000 prescriptions each month, and they can now do it faster with a dispensing robot. The machine stores and doles out medications. It also syncs with screens installed at a nearby cafe. Patients can watch for alerts about their prescriptions while enjoying cups of tea, rather than waiting in the pharmacy department and potentially causing crowdedness.

When a sick person needs medication to relieve symptoms, they likely appreciate getting it as soon as possible. This application of robotics in pharmaceuticals helps that happen without decreases in quality that could compromise safety.

Promising Opportunities on the Horizon
These four examples show how BigPharma robots and advanced machines used by hospitals could help overcome various problems that bring health care obstacles.

For instance, if people receive tainted medications or the wrong doses, they could suffer life-threatening or fatal outcomes, while brands deal with the ramifications affecting their corporate reputation.

Robots offer increased consistency that allows avoiding those problems and others.