Pharmacists count on Kirby Lester robots to save time
Sunday, March 17, 2013 11:20 PM
After a patient’s prescription is delivered to a local pharmacy, a high-speed robot just may be selecting the prescribed drug, counting the pills, printing the label and adhering it to a selected container, all in about 20 seconds.
The KL100 pharmacy robot automatically dispenses prescription drugs for pharmacists, eliminating medication mishandling.
And other pill counting machines could become just as high-tech with the addition of a web camera that allows the pharmacist to double check the machine’s work from anywhere, including another store or even while at home, said Garry Zage, CEO of Lake Forest-based Kirby Lester, which he acquired about 7 years ago.
And the company appears to be a part of that evolution.
“Kirby Lester wants to equip pharmacists to do more,” said Zage.
The 41-year-old company is evolving with new technology just as the role of the pharmacist is evolving, too. The company already sells the next generation robot, called the KL100 that can practically speed-dial prescriptions and finish the order in about 20 seconds. And it still sells new generation pill counting machines to any number of well-known retail pharmacies and those inside supermarkets, hospitals, government agencies and mail order drug companies, Zage said.
But with the addition of webcams, the new technology could move the role of the pharmacist away from being a pill counter to more of an adviser and educator to consumers.
The role of the pharmacist has been changing for several decades now, said Michelle Spinnler, a spokeswoman for the American Pharmacists Association in Washington, D.C. “Pharmacists have gone from making medications to making medications work,” said Spinnler. “While technology plays a role in assisting them, the practice of pharmacy has been changing as a whole.”
When Zage was a younger pharmacist, he used the Kirby Lester machines for counting certain prescriptions. At that time, the company was based in Stanford, Conn.
“The quality was always there,” Zage recalled.
In September 2005, he decided to purchase Kirby Lester, kept the name and relaunched the brand, and expanded a sales and marketing team to boost the products.
The company then released a number of new products, including the most recent KL100, that doles out 100 of the most prescribed medications, and its previous generation of KL60, that had a capacity for 60 medications.
“The computer system inside allows the robots to understand the messages, like a printer does for a computer,” Zage said.
The machines are 99 percent accurate and the pharmacists always double-checks the machine’s work before giving the prescriptions to the patients, he said.
But whether the patient actually takes the medicine, takes the proper dosages and when it was prescribed is all part of a major issue involving noncompliance, Zage said.
“(Non compliance) has turned into a $450 billion a year problem,” Zage said.
Pharmacists see their role as helping patients learn more about the medication and how to comply with the doctor’s prescription. Zage believes that the more a pharmacist can explain the benefits of taking the medicine properly, the more benefit will happen for the patient in the long run.
Allowing the machines to fill the prescriptions also frees up time for the pharmacist to better communicate with patients, he said.
The role of the pharmacist has been changing, but they’ve always been educators, said Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association in Springfield.
“They will not entirely get away from dispensing,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds said that Kirby Lester is one of the original companies that offered counting machines. Others, such as AutoMed in Vernon Hills merged with AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. in Chesterbrook, Penn., and Parata acquired McKesson Corp. in San Francisco, Calif.
Kirby Lester, still a private company, has already expanded globally with robots, including two recent additions at a pharmacy in Kuwait. Zage aims to continue the global expansion.
The company has about 100 workers and he’s looking to hire more by next year, Zage said.
Kirby Lester is already in talks with a number of major retailers regarding the web-camera counting machines. So pharmacists could start using them in the next 12 to 18 months, and patients and customers likely will notice when the pharmacist has more time to actually answer their questions, he said.
“We’re always looking for the next product and to fill the next need,” Zage said.