How a robot can terminate medical errors for kids

RIVA the robot is ready with an IV and the right dosage

In a children's hospital, dispensing medicine is more complicated than putting pills in a bottle. Youthful patients come in a wide variety of ages and sizes, which means their dosages must be individually tailored.

Hundreds or thousands of medicines must be made up and delivered daily. Combine that with the breadth of not-always-easy-to-distinguish medicines and dosages and even careful pharmacists and other medical personnel can slip up when tired or distracted.

Now, technology has arrived that its makers promise can drastically cut down on drug-related errors. The Robotic Intravenous Automation (RIVA) device made by Winnipeg-based Intelligent Hospital Systems is a robotic arm that can prepare sterile IV syringes and bags behind its glass case.

RIVA's software is a custom-built .Net 2.0 app written in C# running on Microsoft's Windows XP Embedded operating system on an Intel processor. To make the code lean, RIVA relies heavily on scripts stored inside a Sybase Inc. embedded database, SQL Anywhere, Doherty said.

The $1.2 million system, released late last year, is already in use at three children's hospitals in the U.S., with another two facilities preparing to deploy it, according to Thom Doherty, CTO at Intelligent Hospital Systems. "We can never bring the risk down to zero, but with RIVA we are bringing the risk as low as possible," he said.

How? For repetitive-but-critical tasks like preparing medicines, it's a no-brainer that robots are better than people, Doherty said. "A machine doesn't lose attention or focus like a human does," he said.

The RIVA is more sterile and less prone to contamination than using human pharmacists, and it's built to be adept at spotting potential errors, said Doherty. After medications are loaded by a technician, the camera scans drug labels for names, doses and expiration dates. The balance weighs vials and syringes to establish their weights, while the robotic arm and laser sensor measures how large the syringes are.

All told, 3% to 4% of drugs being combined by RIVA are rejected before they are completed due to discrepancies, with data being captured in the software-equivalent of a black box in case of errors.

Drug-related errors sometimes bubble up into the news. In 2006, the newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid almost died when they were accidentally given 1,000 times the dosage of a blood thinner called heparin. Quaid is suing heparin's maker, Baxter Healthcare, for negligence, arguing that its packaging did not differentiate enough between dosages. He's also testified before Congress on the topic ( download PDF).

So far, no hospitals have reported any incorrect doses created by RIVA, Doherty said. That's in part because live pharmacists remain the ultimate gatekeeper. "We will never replace having the pharmacist check the final order and approve the prescription," Doherty said.

To further cut down on the risk of errors, RIVA can connect with computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems that require a doctor to choose and confirm a drug via computer rather than scribble the prescription on a notepad. And it works with bar-code medication administration (BCMA) systems that confirm when medicines are given, Doherty said.

Children's Hospital of Orange County in Southern California is one of RIVA's users. Rita Jew, executive director of the pharmacy, told the Orange County Register that RIVA helps reduce wasted medication and errors and will give pharmacists more time to work with doctors and nurses.

It's also a good investment, according to Doherty, who said RIVA buyers should be able to earn a return on their investment within two to three years.

While RIVA could threaten some pharmaceutical jobs, Doherty noted that it helps pharmacists avoid exposure to toxic chemicals, a major drug hazard. It can also relieve much of their stress, he said.

"This takes a weight off the shoulders of pharmacists, who tell me, 'Every day I go home and think, is this the day I made a mistake?'"

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags robotsroboticse-health

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Eric Lai

Computerworld
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?