ERNIE The Robot Pharmacist - More Accurate Than Humans

A robot pharmacist named ERNIE dispenses more than 90 percent of Evergreen Hospital Medical Center's drugs. ERNIE has packaged nearly 400,000 doses in the past nine months and works twenty-four hours per day. And in that time, the number of medication errors reported by the hospital decreased by 25 percent.

ERNIE, which stands for "Evergreen Robot Noticeably Improving Efficiency", is leased for $3 million over seven years; the system includes twenty-two computerized drug dispensing cabinets. A large servo-driven arm sits in a 100 square-foot octagonal enclosure, rotating and grabbing packets of bar code-labelled doses. Lasers scan bar codes to determine the correct medication. If ERNIE does not recognize a bar code, the offending packet is placed in a reject bin. The packets of medication are triple-checked by pharmacists before being placed in the machine; Ernie prints the name of the patient onto their packets before providing them for delivery to the patient floor. Typically, a 24 hour supply is done at a given time.

Robots are increasingly playing a role in hospital pharmacies. The IntelliFill device is an automated pharmacy compounding device for IV drugs. It reads files from a database of orders, selects the drug, mixes it, places it in a syringe and labels the syringe with the patient's name and the drug name. The machine has a sterile, sealed environment and can provide doses with an accuracy rate of 0.6 microliters - much more precise than humans.

In his 1990 story Madness Has Its Place, Larry Niven refers to an autodoc, a robot physician, that could dispense medications when needed. Another story that offers an automated machine or robot to dispense medication is the revitalizer console from John Varley's 1983 novel Millenium.

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