Why Small Hospitals Should Implement Automation to Maximize Efficiency

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Photo credit: Depositphotos

By Kevin Copsey

This year, hospitals, pharmacies and other healthcare facilities have had to address challenges at a magnitude that had never been seen before – leaving many to look for opportunities to reduce costs and be more efficient. 

Thankfully, in a world increasingly influenced by technology, there is ample opportunity to leverage automation within hospitals that can maximize efficiency while reducing operating costs. Automation is key to sustained stability and success. Today, many 100-400 bed hospitals are still manually unit-dosing their medications. Given the current pressure for hospitals to reduce operating costs, automated tabletop packaging machines offer a significant opportunity to lower packaging and labor costs, and they are transforming the way many hospitals and their pharmacies operate. 

Return on investment.

Although there is an up-front expense to the hardware, the added value is packed with benefits, and most pharmacies can show a positive ROI in the first year of purchasing, or renting, a new unit dose packaging machine. In fact, many hospital pharmacies can show an ROI in just the first month. This is based on a cost savings opportunity of $.04-$.05 per package compared to manual unit dose supplies.  

Automated packaging is a cost-effective way for hospital pharmacies to not only lower packaging costs, but to also reduce the labor required to do the packaging. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, staffing has been a challenge for many pharmacies due to a depleted workforce. By investing in automated machinery like a tabletop unit dose packaging machine, hospitals can operate at the same rate without having to worry about reduced staffing challenges. 

Tabletop unit dose packaging machines can package at speeds of 60-120 packages per minute. This means a facility’s labor time can be decreased by nearly 50% with the use of automated machinery as opposed to the manual process. Some hospitals even report being able to cut up to half of a full-time employee (FTE) by investing a machine. By swapping the manual packaging process for automation, hospitals can eliminate repetitive tasks, gain efficiency and reduce packaging costs.

Cost saving opportunities.

For hospitals that are currently manually unit dose packaging, depending on the size of the hospital, they typically purchase ~70% of medications pre-unit dosed, but there are significant cost savings if a pharmacy decides to purchase some medications in bulk and do their own unit dosing. Some of the medications to look for cost savings with include Aripiprazole, Paliperidone and Oxycodone. Once a hospital invests in a packaging machine, they can do a review of their current medication costs and look for opportunities to do their own unit dose packaging for medications that tend to be the most expensive when buying pre-unit dosed packages – this can offer significant cost savings.

Additional benefits. 

In addition, many hospitals prefer the flexible packaging material that coincides with a tabletop machine. The flexible packaging material is easier to open, and more medications can be stored in an automated dispensing cabinet (ADCs) when compared to the manual blister unit dose packaging. So not only are there opportunities to show an ROI quickly, the packaging material and storing methods are highly preferred.

Thinking forward. 

As automation continues to gain popularity across all industries, many pharmacy leaders are continuing to realize the benefits of switching from manual processes to machinery. As hospital pharmacies look at potential suppliers to partner with for automation, it is beneficial to look for those that can support all of their packaging needs, including unit-dosing, multi-dosing, packaging for oral and liquid medications and additional machines such as bar code printers, bagging/overwrapping machines and a universal software platform that seamlessly operates all of these machines. 

As automated equipment grows more efficient and provides significant benefits, smaller hospitals and their pharmacists are quickly learning that they can’t afford not to automate. 

About the Author 

Kevin Copsey serves as the business unit director for Euclid® Medical Products, a leading provider of pharmacy automation equipment with a focus on helping pharmacies, long-term care facilities and third-party re-packagers improve operations and overall patient health. Kevin leads operations, new product development, customer service and business development teams.  For more information, visit euclidmedicalproducts.com.

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