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New $6 million pharmacy at University Hospital boasts key technology aimed at reducing risk of medication errors

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - University Hospital's new $6 million state-of-the art pharmacy brings to Central New York one of the most technologically advanced medication management systems in the state.The pharmacy officially opens Dec. 9.

The new system uses bar code technology and a new drug storage and retrieval system to triple check drug orders, thus drastically reducing the potential for medication errors.

The new pharmacy also provides University Hospital with a fully compliant operation for mixing intravenous drugs, including chemotherapy drugs. New regulations now require hospitals to have a clean room environment for the preparation of low, medium and high-risk intravenous products.

"From enhancing patient safety to more effective management of our drug inventory, this new system is second to none," said Roy Guharoy, PharmD, director of pharmacy services and associate professor of medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University.

A technologically advanced pharmacy is essential especially given the breadth of activity handled each day by the pharmacy: 10,000 medication orders, 1,000 intravenous drug orders and management of 2,000 different medications.

"There are so many checks and balances that need to be made when dealing with medications: is the prescription accurate, does the patient have drug allergies, is the medication's expiration date still valid, is the correct patient getting the correct medication," Guharoy said, " if we can be aided by technology in these reviews, we are that much more accurate in our job."

A highlight of the new system is the carousel automated medication management system, manufactured by Omnicell Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. Instead of storing drugs on shelves, like many pharmacies, medications at University Hospital are stored in a carousel and organized with bar-code technology. When a medication is ordered, the pharmacist processes it after thorough clinical review. The carousel finds the correct drug and delivers it to the pharmacy assistant. Another scan of the bar-code ensures that the drug taken from the carousel is indeed what the doctor ordered. When the drug is delivered to the floor it is checked again by the nurse before it is given to the patient. The bar-code system also interfaces with medication distribution units on patient floors.

For added security the system can only be accessed by certified users with password. Additionally, a database of all transactions can be accessed at any time.

The system not only enhances safety and reduces the risk of error, it more accurately manages drug inventory. "The new technology provides us with an instant analysis of drug usage, expiration dates and other vital information that enables us to implement a 'just in time' inventory system," Guharoy said. "As a result we are more efficient in ordering drugs and have less waste from having to dispose of outdated drugs."

Another significant upgrade for University Hospital's pharmacy is the addition of three separate "clean rooms" for mixing low, moderate and high-risk intravenous medications and chemotherapy drugs. A new federal regulation now requires hospitals to have manufacturing facility for preparation of intravenous admixtures using optimal sterile process and quality control. "This new regulation greatly reduces the possibility of medication errors and enhances the safety of those making the medications," said Guharoy, who noted that University Hospital processes about 1,000 intravenous drug orders daily. "This new set up ensures patients that we are providing these medications in compliance with the most stringent regulations."

In addition to all the technological safeguards, University Hospital clinical pharmacists actively monitor drug therapy of all patients and work with physicians to ensure that patients receive the best therapy during their hospital stay.

The pharmacy upgrade at University Hospital comes at a time when hospitals across the country are examining ways to reduce the risk of medication safety errors. University Hospital is an acknowledged frontrunner in this area, having been ranked as the best performer among academic medical centers in a national medication safety benchmarking project by the University Health Consortium.

"Medication safety is one of the most significant issues hospitals face today," said Phillip S. Schaengold, J.D., interim executive director at University Hospital. "The opening of our new pharmacy and our past work on this issue, is a testament to our commitment to ensuring the safety of our patients."

University Hospital will soon implement computerized physician order entry throughout the entire institution, which will provide another level of safety for patients. CPOE, which requires computer entry of all physician orders, has the potential of reducing errors in a number of areas, especially those caused by illegible hand-writing.