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    Robotic medication delivery enhances patient care

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    What appear to be garden-variety medication carts travel the halls at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore, delivering medications to 3 critical-care units. The self-powered carts move along the halls alone; they call elevators and board them all by themselves. When they arrive at their destinations, they announce themselves and then allow only authorized personnel access to the medications they are delivering.

    Use of the robotic delivery system known as TUG began at UMMC in 2002 with 1 automated medication cart, which delivered filled orders to the center's Shock Trauma unit from the satellite pharmacy serving that unit, said Marc Summerfield, RPh, MS, director of pharmacy at UMMC. The medical center now has 8 TUG units delivering orders filled by the pharmacy to 3 critical-care units within UMMC: Shock Trauma, Weinberg, and the Gudelsky Critical Care Hospital.

    Spare the techs, speed delivery

    Use of the TUGs has reduced by 60% the time it takes between the pharmacy's receipt of a drug order and its delivery to the nursing unit. Previously, pharmacy technicians had to carry the filled orders to the units, which took the technicians away from other tasks in the pharmacy.

    "This way, the techs can stay in pharmacy and actually do the things that they are trained to do," Summerfield said.

    The pharmacists and pharmacy technicians using the system are happy with it, said Marisol De Leon, PharmD, pharmacy services manager for UMMC's Weinberg, Shock Trauma, and Perioperative Department.

    Originally, the system used a different pharmacy software that called for nurses to take responsibility for drugs when they arrived at the nursing unit.

    "They were a little ambivalent about it," De Leon said. Also at that time, controlled substances could not be delivered by TUG and had to be hand-carried to the units.

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    Valerie DeBenedette
    Valerie DeBenedette is a medical news writer in Putnam County, N.Y.