3 tips for hospitals employing drug-delivery robots

Numerous hospitals and health systems have invested in drug-delivery robots for years, but recently, there's been an uptick in adopting this technology, according to Joe Burczynski, PharmD. 

Dr. Burczynski, executive director of pharmacy services at Syracuse, N.Y.-based Upstate University Hospital, and Cecilia Costello, PharmD, medication systems and operations manager for inpatient pharmacy at Lebanon, N.H.-based Dartmouth Health, shared with Becker's their advice for other hospital pharmacy leaders who plan to employ drug-delivery robots. 

Upstate bought 14 TUG robots in June 2022 to deliver medical supplies, drugs, linens, meals and clinical equipment, and Dartmouth Health added three TUGs to its halls this summer.

Three tips:

1. Do your homework

Dr. Burczynski and Dr. Costello recommended talking with other organizations that have already implemented the technology, which can identify problems before they exist. 

Another tip is mapping the path the robots are expected to take. These excursions can include taking note of the number of elevators and how many doors need to be opened with door actuators. 

At Dartmouth, the original plan was for the three TUGs to support the entire hospital, but because of a miscommunication during a leadership shuffle, the robots were earmarked solely for the patient pavilion that opened in May, according to Dr. Costello. The mix-up led to too many robots and not enough money for hospital-wide door openers.

Simply walking through the halls, though, aided in a temporary solution. 

"We've found that certain doors are open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. The doors are already propped open, so we don't need that additional door opener at that time," Dr. Costello said. "Being able to limit our deliveries to those hours, which is primarily when we would be doing deliveries anyway, [helped] navigate around that extra cost."

Dartmouth is deploying the TUGs in phases, starting with four units — three heart and vascular units and one medicine unit — before spreading to two surgical units the week of Aug. 14. Dr. Costello said she expects the robots to travel through the whole hospital campus within one to two years. 

2. Loop in other departments

Both leaders recommended hospitals and systems involve multiple departments and disciplines into the planning stage, such as pharmacy and lab workers, nurses, patients and their families, the health IT team, engineering folks, and the hospital's help desk. 

3. Educate staff and patients

Communicating with others who will come into contact is paramount to a smooth rollout, Dr. Burczynski said, including pharmacy and lab workers, nurses, the patient transport team, patients and patients' families. 

"Patient transport comes to mind," Dr. Burczynski. "I could see a scenario where you're transporting a patient down the hall and it's a narrow hallway and the TUG is coming the opposite way. Then, you know the dance you do when you don't know who's gonna go to the left, who's gonna go to the right? That can certainly happen, [not] knowing who's gonna go first. The answer to that is the patient is going to go first and then the TUG, but those interactions, making sure that training is there and that the communication is there really will set you up for success."

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