On the conveyor belts running behind the dispensing counters of Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) renovated Outpatient Pharmacy are baskets of packed prescription medications. The pharmacist just needs to turn around, pick up the baskets, and is assured that they will contain the right medications ready for dispensing to the patient.
The sense of assurance is made possible by a new intelligent Automated RFID Prescription Drug Delivery System, the first of its kind to be used in any hospital Pharmacy.
The design and implementation of this integrated system is a collaboration between SGH, Innotech Resources Pte Ltd, PSB Technologies Pte Ltd, EurekaPlus Pte Ltd, and Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS).
“The design and implementation of the RFID prescription drug delivery system is a part of our transformation journey. Transforming the way we work, and the way we deliver care. This new system is a collaborative partnership harnessing the synergies of SGH and our industry partners. Automating the processes will not only enable us to significantly improve efficiency of prescription dispensing and patient safety, it will enable us to improve overall patient experience,” said Professor Ang Chong Lye, Chief Executive Officer, SGH.
Previously, the packing process heavily relied on manual resources, making it susceptible to human errors such as packing the wrong drug or wrong strength. The incorporation of automation and technology to provide real time tracking of processing status via RFID, complemented by LED guided pick of medication through barcode scanning, helps minimise the possibility of medication errors.
“With the implementation of the novel RFID conveyor system, the backend prescription filling process is automated from end to end. We are now able to re-deploy our Pharmacy technicians, who used to do packing and sorting, to other areas to further improve service levels at the Outpatient Pharmacy,” said Mr Lim Mun Moon, Deputy Director, Department of Pharmacy, SGH.
Before the implementation of the system in November 2012, packing and assembling of prescription medications was labour intensive, time-consuming, and very dependent on trained manpower. Pharmacy technicians had to criss-cross the drug storage areas to locate and pack patients’ prescription medications item by item. Packed medications were then placed into baskets, checked and sorted according to queue sequence, before pushing out for dispensing to patients.
With the new system in place, Pharmacy technicians are now stationed to pick from a fixed range of medications on the shelves, where drug labels are printed. A simple scan of the barcode on the drug label, lights up the LED for the drug bin, and guides the Pharmacy technician to the correct drug bin, improving safety and the efficiency of the packing process.
How does the Automated RFID Prescription Drug Delivery System works?
After a patient presents his prescription at the registration counter, it will be reviewed by a pharmacist. The prescription is then placed in a RFID-tagged basket and placed on the conveyor belt, triggering the packing process.
Medications are concurrently packed either through automation or manually via LED-guided pick. Boxed and blister-packed medications are picked and packed by two Drug Dispensing Systems (DDS) units developed by SGH and Getech Automation Pte Ltd. For medications that require manual picking, Pharmacy technicians scan the barcode on the drug label and are guided by LED light to the drug location for the medication.
All packed medications are placed into RFID-tagged baskets and then onto the 110 meter long conveyor. RFID readers strategically located along the conveyor belt confer real time tracking of the position and processing stage. Once all the baskets with medications belonging to the same prescription are detected on the conveyor belt, they will be auto-assembled and auto-channeled to the next available dispensing counter based on queue sequence.