The improvement of patient safety is often one of the key focus points in healthcare, and automated drug dispensing machines have been recommended as one way to improve efficiency and patient safety.

1. Robot pharmacist in Dubai

Dubai has recently hopped on the ‘robot dispensary’ bandwagon – the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) has launched the country’s first "robot" pharmacist at the smart pharmacy in Rashid Hospital, which became fully operational last week.

The machine has a maximum capacity of 35,000 medicines, and can dispense around 12 prescribed medicines in less than a minute, based on barcodes. It is paper-free – the prescription is documented electronically by a doctor, and stored in the robot.

It is thought that this will minimise human error in dispensing drugs and allows the pharmacist to focus on giving patients proper and clear instructions on taking the medication. At the same time, the rapid dispensing allowed by the robot reduces patients’ waiting time.

There are plans for all hospitals to adopt the technology in the future. According to Humaid Al Qatami, chairman of the board and director-general of DHA, the robot is the latest in a series of smart technologies that have been adopted by the authority to meet the country’s health strategy over the next five years.

2. Pillo – A robot which manages a family’s health

Health management robots are not just for the hospital, as proven by Pillo, the personal home health robot. Dubbed "the smartest and friendliest way to manage yours and your family's health", Pillo uses advanced user recognition features to dispense the right medication for the right person, and comes with tamper-proof casing to keep users’ personal information safe.

In addition, Pillo can connect users to a healthcare professional within minutes, so that users can avoid the waiting times or hassle involved in seeing a doctor the traditional way. Conveniently, it syncs up to other wireless devices, including smartphones and smartwatches. The catch is that to be effective, the robot has to track the user’s every move, giving rise to concerns about privacy.

"Pillo securely stores up to four weeks’ worth of vitamins and medications in tamper proof containers with the device,” claims the website.

"...with his sophisticated identity recognition technologies, Pillo makes sure that medications are dispensed for the right user at the right time, every time. He can also send you or your caregiver reminders if you need a little help staying on schedule. Running low? Not to worry. Pillo knows and will automatically re-order your medications from your preferred pharmacy.”

3. RecMed – A first-aid vending machine

For those who prefer medical technology to be a little less autonomous, here is another idea: a vending machine that dispenses all manner of first-aid, from first-aid packages to treat minor ailments such as cuts, bee stings and blisters or individual supplies like bandages, gauze pads and rubber gloves.

RecMed is the brainchild of 14-year-old Taylor Rosenthal, when the Young Entrepreneurs Academy - a program designed as a class for students interested in learning how to start their own small businesses - asked his class to brainstorm ideas for a company. The Opelika High School freshman was inspired by his experience of playing baseball as a first baseman and pitcher for a decade.

"No one could find a Band-Aid when someone got hurt," said Rosenthal.

He received help from his mother and father, who both work in the medical industry as an x-ray technician and sports medicine trainer, respectively, in developing his idea. With help from a startup incubator, Rosenthal went on to win third place in a regional competition in Florida. His simple but innovative idea has earned him a total of $100,000 in investments.

Automated dispensing machines for medicine and first-aid arguably enhance the efficiency of medication distribution, although their capacity to do so depends on many factors, such as how they are designed and implemented. They provide secure medication storage, along with electronic tracking of the use of medication they store, eliminating the need for manual counting of drugs. At the same time, this security is balanced by the accessibility of medicine and first-aid products to those in need. MIMS

Read more:
Pharmacists play crucial role in reducing medication errors 
Strategies to minimise medication errors in the pharmacy 
Mitigating hospital errors: Recent advancements in medical technologies