A Baltimore company is expanding into the Philadelphia area, using robots to supply medications to nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
And it all starts with giant bottles of pills.
"Instead of buying 60-count bottles, we're buying 1,000-count bottles," explained Kitu Patel, a process engineer at Remedi SeniorCare Pharmacies, which just opened a brand-new facility in Phoenixville.
Those pills are packaged in individual "blister packs" by one machine, and then loaded in bulk into the main attraction: a $1.3 million robot the size of a shipping container — with spinning 'fingers' inside that pick and pack customized orders of daily meds.
"What this actually represents is one patient, one med pass time," said Patel. "This is what patient 'Abbie Doe' is taking at eight in the morning."
"The accuracy is something that you can't really accomplish with just a normal human," said Patel.
Remedi is where nursing homes outsource their pharmacy work. There are no patients here. Company officials say the company's robot, called Paxit, is stocked with multiple checkpoints along the way, with automated systems far more reliable than humans in ensuring accuracy.
"So it's much, much safer, much more efficient and much more effective than traditional approaches," said Remedi SeniorCare CEO Michael Bronfein.
"Fundamentally, what we're doing is industrializing the fulfillment process for medications," Bronfein said. "We're removing labor, error and waste."
Remedi now has four locations and is growing. It rolled out its first version of Paxit in 2009.
John Norton, spokesman for the National Community Pharmacists Association, says robots are becoming much more prevalent in institutional pharmacies.
Automation, he says, means pharmacists and nurses should have more time for patients.
"From our vantage point, anything that creates greater efficiency and allows us to actually practice our medication expert skills is a good thing," Norton said.
The Remedi SeniorCare facility in Phoenixville now serves a few hundred patients, but plans to reach 20,000 within five years, according to Bronfein.