LINCOLN, Maine — New computer bar-coding equipment recently installed at Penobscot Valley Hospital allows staff to electronically track the transportation of drugs from the delivery truck to a patient’s bedside.
The hospital’s new Pyxis Med Station 4000 system increases efficiency and hospital accountability and control of high-risk or high-alert drugs, including potentially hazardous medications such as anti-coagulants and narcotics, said pharmacist Bob Genest, director of the hospital’s pharmacy.
“It ensures that we are putting the right drugs together with the right patients at the right time,” Jill Tolman, a certified pharmacy tech at the hospital, said Tuesday. “It is a major improvement in patient safety.”
A decade ago, hospital staff manually controlled the distribution of medicines through the hospital pharmacy mostly with paper records such as medical charts. It was a system vulnerable to drug theft, drug misdistribution and waste.
Now medicine packaging — including the exterior of the boxes it comes in and the individually cellophane-wrapped pills — is bar-coded. And it is scanned by laser bar-code readers and computer-verified upon delivery to the hospital, as it is entered into the hospital’s computer system in the pharmacy, in the hospital’s four Pyxis drug distribution areas and finally at bedside, Genest said.
“It takes a lot of inefficiency out of the system,” Genest said of the Pyxis system, which first was introduced to the hospital in 2007 and upgraded in September.
“These machines are basically ATMs for drugs,” he added. “When you go to an ATM, you enter your information and you get what you are looking for. This system does basically the same thing.”
The security of the system, which entails keeping a patient’s medications locked in computer-controlled drawers accessible by bar-code clearance, allowed hospital staff to decentralize drug distribution to the four areas — the inpatient, intensive care, and emergency and surgical services departments — rather than from just the pharmacy.
The most recent upgrade increased the distribution area from two to four. The decentralization allows staff to access needed drugs with greater speed, Genest said.
As part of the system’s safeguards, the prescription records are computerized and available hospitalwide. Each scanning point automatically will issue warnings, through chimes or alarms, whenever the barcode scans don’t match records.
This helps eliminate confusion caused by different drugs that look almost exactly the same and have very similar names, Genest said.
The system also tracks who distributes medicines to patients and when the distribution occurs — again issuing warnings when medicines are distributed at the wrong times — while allowing patients to effectively return unused medicines and be reimbursed for them.
“We have been working toward this for a while,” said Genest. “Now we have a system with all the bells and whistles.”