Early-stage experiences of the implementation of a large-scale robotic storage and distribution system in a hospital pharmacy service within a large UK Health Authority

Van Der Meer, Robert and Bennie, Marion and Corcoran, Emma Dunlop and Lannigan, Norman (2013) Early-stage experiences of the implementation of a large-scale robotic storage and distribution system in a hospital pharmacy service within a large UK Health Authority. European Journal of Hospital Pharmacy: Science and Practice, 20 (6). pp. 362-367. ISSN 2047-9956

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Abstract

Objective: New technological advancements are often a driver for change in the redesign of services. More research is needed to better understand the impact of socio-technical dimensions on the implementation of new technological systems in hospital pharmacy. This paper aims to analyse the early-stage experiences (first six months) arising from the large-scale automation of medicines distribution, as part of a redesign programme of hospital pharmacy services within a large UK Health Authority. Methods: Thirty-six pharmacy staff from four hospital sites (700-900 inpatient beds per site) were interviewed over 11 visits between May and September 2010. Interviews were complemented by extensive documentary data on the redesign programme. Data analysis included inductive coding followed by thematic analysis. Research findings were fed into the monthly Project Board meetings, to inform the decision-making process throughout the automation project. Results: Six key themes were identified. The technical dimensions involved issues associated with the robotic storage and distribution system, the pharmacy management system, and sourcing medicines unavailable from the pharmacy distribution centre. The social/human dimensions related to understanding staff roles within the new system, the importance of effective communication, and the effect of the redesign on staff morale. Conclusions: The introduction of new technology may not only lead to unintended first-order consequences such as initial staff resistance, but can also generate potentially serious adverse feedback loops between the social and technical dimensions of the new system. Nevertheless, if such early-stage problems can be effectively overcome, significant benefits are achievable.