Singapore General Hospital has deployed an RFID-based solution within its pharmacy system that dramatically improves patient waiting times, enhances patient safety and drives staff productivity.
Implemented by SGH and Integrated Health Information Systems (the Health Ministry’s IT arm), the system applies advanced manufacturing and supply chain technologies such as RFID and LED to the traditional clinical healthcare setting.
Since the intelligent system was rolled out, SGH Outpatient Pharmacy has nearly cut in half the time required to fill prescriptions. As a result, 80 percent of patients now receive their medicines within 30 minutes.
The solution has also reduced the labor needed to pick and pack drugs by 11 staffers. These employees have been re-deployed to run more dispensing counters, allowing the hospital pharmacy to serve twice as many patients as in the past.
Most importantly, the system has improved patient safety by enabling pharmacists to review all prescriptions and by reducing drug packing errors.
“The Pharmacy system is in line with Singapore’s commitment to drive innovation to manage rising costs and improve productivity in our Regional Health Systems,” says IHiS chief executive officer Dr. Chong Yoke Sin.
“We borrow solutions from other industries such as manufacturing and logistics in developing systems for public healthcare. This is part of our roadmap to equip all public healthcare institutions with innovative systems to improve patient waiting times and care quality, and multiply productivity and capacity.”
The automated RFID Prescription Drug Delivery System (APDS) consists of a pharmacy dispensing workflow system and software that optimize processes, a drug dispensing system that controls machines that pick, pack and label drugs, an LED light guiding system for manual drug picking, and an RFID-enabled conveyor that transports, auto-assembles and channels packed items to the front dispensing counters.
Prescriptions received are tagged, reviewed by pharmacists, and then dropped into a RFID-tagged basket on a conveyor to trigger the packing process. Drug dispensing robots automatically pick and drop medicines into labelled plastic bags.
Packed medicines are placed into RFID-tagged baskets on a conveyor and RFID readers along the conveyor provide real time tracking of the drugs.
Once all baskets with medicines for the same prescription are detected on the conveyor, they are auto-assembled and channelled to the next available dispensing counter, based on the queue order.
The intelligent system evenly distributes tasks to the robots and manual processing stations, while control software consolidate multiple RFID-tagged baskets for the same prescription and optimize their delivery to the available front dispensing counters.
“The intelligent system transforms high volume prescription filling,” says SGH pharmacy director Lim Mun Moon. “We have achieved efficiency gains and higher standards of practice by re-distributing critical resources and including patient-centered safety features into our work processes.
“The solution addresses the challenges of busy hospital outpatient pharmacies worldwide who are seeking to enhance patient safety, shorten prescription filling times, increase capacity and reduce reliance on trained staff.”
IHiS is now working with other public hospitals to implement similar highly automated outpatient pharmacy systems.
The project was created with a consortium of five local companies with expertise from multiple fields and was funded by SGH, the Ministry of Health and SPRING Singapore.
Contributing companies included Getech, which developed the automated drug dispensing system; NCS, the company behind the pharmacy workflow dispensing and light guided drug pick system; PSB Technologies, which built the intelligent conveyor system; Innotech Resources, which integrated RFID technology with the conveyor; and EurekaPlus, which programmed the controlling software.