The snow-white robot collects the package swiftly from the conveyor belt and hands it in its pliers to the reader that scans the package information. The robot's movements are surprisingly similar to those of the whooper swan, Finland's national bird – as if the machine had the bird's bendy and flexible neck and delicate, refined moves.
Pharmacist Elina Ahomäki says that the task of the storage robot acquired last autumn is to store articles, as the name implies.
“When a delivery has arrived from the wholesaler, the pharmaceutical packages are inserted in the robot. The robot accepts the goods and shelves the packages. Ward orders are also placed with the robot which then picks the ordered products.”
The robot has measured up to expectations, says Ahomäki. Every morning, four robot arms pick and shelve products at the rate of some 1,500 packages per hour. This helps to lower the risk of human errors.
But the robot cannot be left on its own completely: someone has to monitor it for malfunctions.
“But it is rather independent. We still do some picking manually, but lots of pharmaceutical competence has now been released for other tasks, such as ward services.”
Next year automation will enter the department of cancer drugs when HUS Pharmacy acquires a robot for drug preparation. Pharmacist Hanna Tolonen says that the robot will prepare some of the patient-specific doses of cancer drugs.
“The manual preparation of cytostatic drugs means that when a pharmacy receives the factory package, the dry pharmacological agent is first dissolved and then the necessary amount is diluted into a patient dose. The ready-to-use solution, or concentrate, only needs to be diluted.”
Automation will also improve ergonomics.
“Preparing cytostatic drugs for use is hard manual work that contains lots of repetitive phases. And as the number of cancer drug doses is on the increase, our production capacity has to keep growing. A robot is an efficient worker, and lowers the risk of preparation errors. This will also contribute to patient safety.”
Text: Essi Kähkönen
Photo: Vesa Tyni