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November 05, 2021

Why Automation Is Critical in the Operating Room

Leif Parcell
Senior Product Marketing Manager

Did you know that surgical patients are three times more likely to experience a harmful medication error than those in other healthcare settings? Given the number of high-alert controlled substances administered under often intense conditions inside the operating room (OR), it's no surprise.

Anesthesia providers must constantly balance patient care with administrative tasks associated with managing medications in the OR. The pharmacy must also make sure that all controlled substances distributed are properly recorded. In 95 percent of U.S. hospitals, automated dispensing cabinets (ADCs) are the standard in nursing units, yet little more than half of hospitals use similar technology for dispensing and tracking medications in operating rooms.

Like many other health systems, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist considers ORs high-risk areas for many reasons. It's a dynamic environment, and things can turn critical at any moment – the room for error is slim.

Industry challenges with managing medications in the OR and perioperative settings affect patient safety, medication reconciliation, tracking, compliance, and more.

The OR is an area where staff is at higher risk for substance use disorders, which can potentially lead to drug diverting behaviors. So, the importance of having closed-loop accountability of controlled substances and transparency is something Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist is striving to achieve.

The answer was employing Omnicell's medication dispensing automation in surgical suites. The Anesthesia Workstation was a game-changer for Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist as it helped support more efficient workflows. Scanning happened right on the spot, allowing for safer medication management, more accountability, and better-controlled substance handling.

But another challenge was the disconnect between their electronic health record (EHR) and their medication use processes. Information flow wasn't seamless, and they had a lot of manual workflows. Their teams did the best they could but desperately needed a better solution.

Omnicell introduced new close-loop accountability that integrates the Anesthesia Workstation with the EHR. Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist saw many benefits, ranging from time cut down on investigating to increasing waste compliance by more than 10 percent.

Leveraging automation across the medication use process is part of the larger industry vision for the Autonomous Pharmacy, a state of medication management that seeks to replace manual, error-prone activities with automated processes that are safer and more efficient. 

Pharmacy and nursing leaders have joined the Autonomous Pharmacy Advisory Board to help others understand and progress toward a more fully autonomous pharmacy. The board has developed a five-level Autonomous Pharmacy framework to assist health systems with this goal.

The Autonomous Pharmacy Advisory Board also created a self-assessment tool to help you understand and evaluate where your health system falls within the Autonomous Pharmacy framework. The information can assist you in developing strategies to advance medication management across the continuum of care in your health system.

Like Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, you can transform your OR practice and improve your pharmacy outcomes through automation. We highly recommend that you take advantage of the autonomous pharmacy self-assessment to help build your digital transformation strategy.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer, or company. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of the position of any entity other than the author(s). These views are always subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time and may not be held in perpetuity.