Photo by Alex Robinson
By Alex Robinson

Flushing’s New York Hospital Queens has become the city’s second hospital to install a cutting-edge, drug-dispensing robot in its pharmacy.

The robot, which can be operated remotely by a pharmacist, is an automated system that stores and distributes doses of medication, making the whole process of getting drugs to a patient more efficient.

“Years ago, I used to sort medication with a spatula. Technology is amazing,” said Alex Melchert, director of the hospital’s pharmacy.

The robot was designed to check the medication and dosage twice before sending it out to patients. This will greatly reduce the risks of potential medication errors, as it eradicates any human error that may have occurred in the past, Melchert said. It will also barcode every drug that comes into the robot, reducing the possibility of a patient getting somebody else’s medication.

“We really don’t know how many errors are happening in the United States, as nobody has really calculated them because it’s impossible,” Melchert said. “With something like this, you will be able to document how many times you’ve had a near miss, how many times you’ve had medications that look very much alike, or that have similar names that could confuse somebody. We’ll actually get some real documentation to see exactly where our opportunities are to improve things.”

The robot, which cost the hospital $1.5 million, will also check the expiration date of medication as it goes.

The new machine only needs one technician to operate it at a time, which Melchert said will free up the hospital’s staff to make timely deliveries.

“That’s all very time-consuming stuff we do with technicians and we can better utilize that staff to work in the delivery process and to help out with the nurses,” he said. “The robot can do all this and doesn’t get bored.”

Pharmacists will not need to be on site with the new system, but will remotely check every canister that is placed into the robot, which contains five days’ worth of medication.

“We’re at the point now where the pharmacist doesn’t need to be here. He could be at home verifying orders and the robot can process them,” said Kevin Wilkin, the pharmacy’s assistant director.

The robot, which sits in the hospital’s new, state-of-the-art pharmacy, is expected to be operational Jan. 1. New York University’s hospital installed the first such robot in the city.

The hospital’s staff has held a naming competition for the mechanical addition to their staff, but has not yet determined a winner.

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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