In skilled nursing facilities, it’s the human touch that makes all the difference in a patient’s experience. Yet even in this high-touch field, technology can make a significant positive impact. That’s the case for California’s Veterans Homes, where a new, automated drug-delivery system is helping to improve efficiency, reduce waste and assure patient safety.
CalVet provides housing and care for about 2,200 aged or disabled veterans. Because many of these elderly residents take prescription medication, it made sense to install automated systems for dispensing patient medications at six of the eight veterans homes CalVet operates throughout the state. The system works like a secure vending machine, dispensing individually sealed packets that contain the correct prescription drugs for each patient.
“Automated drug delivery is one component of our efforts to provide modern, high-quality, patient-centric care to our veterans,” said Isaiah Mall, CalVet’s Chief Information Officer. “This technology streamlines the process and allows our staff to focus more on patient care and less on routine tasks.”
This automation technology has a number of benefits: reducing the potential for human error, reducing costs and medication waste, and allowing staff to spend more time on patient care and less time preparing and administering medications.
Medication waste has been an issue at skilled nursing facilities nationwide. When a patient is prescribed a 30-day supply of medication, those pills are discarded if a patient leaves or needs to change medication for any reason.
With the new dispensing units, CalVet can purchase in bulk and dispense patient medication as needed, in quantities ranging from one to seven days. When prescription changes occur, they can be quickly modified in the system, reducing the amount of medicine that goes to waste.
There’s still a human factor. Clinicians must double check against the Medical Activity Report (MAR) to confirm that the name and contents of each packet are correct, but they no longer have the manual job of collecting and preparing the prescribed pills for each patient. The dispensing unit does that, providing one to seven days’ worth of patient medication at a time.
There are other benefits as well. CalVet is using a hub-and-spoke model for its dispensing. While each veterans home employs a registered pharmacist, pharmacists can now pinch hit if someone is out sick or on vacation. Because each dispensing unit is standardized and equipped with video cameras, a pharmacist can work virtually from another location to meet the regulatory requirement of overseeing the machine stocking process, something that will be a big help if there is staffing issue or an emergency need.
CalVet installed a total of 17 medication-dispensing units at six veterans homes, a process that took about 18 months. The implementation began with one pilot location in Chula Vista. Once the pilot project was running smoothly, it was much easier and faster to deploy the technology to the next five homes. Some homes have two or more machines, depending on size of the patient population and facility.
The project involved dozens of staff and required coordination among different divisions to establish network connectivity, install video cameras, secure the rooms where dispensing units are located, and ensure the technology processes aligned with operational practices. While there was an initial learning curve for staff, the systems have helped to streamline workflows and processes.