Pharmacy Dispensing Robots can revolutionise pharmacy workflow. But significant investments require confidence in the option you’re picking. This guide curates some of the best offerings on the market into one place, giving you convenience and guidance to start your journey to the promised land of automated dispensing.
Prescription Dispensing Robots, broken down into parts.
If you’ve arrived at this page, you’re probably quite advanced in your decision to acquire a Pharmacy Dispensing Robot. Dispensing Robots automate tasks like dispensing pills, searching for medication, and managing stock levels. They can radically change the workflow of your pharmacy.
But when it comes to all the different options offered by providers, the analysis paralysis is real. Even just one provider has a wide range of options – it’s tricky to narrow down exactly the specification you need. Finding the sweet spot of balancing the cost to impact ratio is the end goal, but with so many options, it’s easy to feel overloaded with information.
So before you decide on four arms or one, Chaotic or Channel-fed dispensing, storing or packaging…read this guide and make your life a little easier. After all, that’s what Pharmacy Robots are supposed to do!
The different modules and operations of a Pharmacy Dispensing Robot
- Inventory Management & Storage – (Refrigeration optional)
- Barcode Scanning – (Falsified Medicine Directive Compliance)
- Packaging – (including Compliance Aid Pouches, Blister Packs, etc)
- Dispensing – Either to the dispensary or a Prescription Collection Point
- Robotic arm(s) – used for medicine movement
- Loading drawers/capsules
Jargon Busting – Chaotic vs Channel-fed dispensing
A couple of terms that get thrown about quite a lot in the world of dispensing robots are Chaotic dispensing and Channel-fed dispensing. Here’s a mini-breakdown of what they mean.
The two main elements of our universe – time and space, are also at the heart of the Chaotic vs Channel-Fed storage/dispensing systems. We’ve highlighted the primary difference between the two in the image slider below.
With a combination of Channel-Fed & Chaotic dispensing, you may need to install an extra dispensing chute from your Robot, which will cost more, so be aware of that.
Narrowing down your needs
Whilst any pharmacy would naturally benefit from automation, the general rule of thumb is that if you’re handling 10,000 items/month, this is the point automation becomes cost-effective vs manual labour.
For now, this guide will focus on Community Pharmacy, though we will look to expand the guide for multiples moving into hub-and-spoke, and DSPs if the demand is there. Please do let us know using the LiveChat function if you’d like your circumstance included in the guide.
What should you be spending?
This is a contextual question. There are multiple yardsticks by which you could measure how much investment in a robot is worth it. Don’t forget though, many Pharmacy Dispensing Robots are modular, meaning you can buy extras in stages, and integrate them into the core unit after installation.
The more automation you build into one, the better. Generally speaking, the more you spend on your robot, the less you or your team will have to intervene in the process.
It’s also worth factoring in any potential refurbishments you may make. Pharmacy Dispensing Robots require a dedicated space, and if you’re currently maximising your pharmacy’s existing space, you’re going to have to make room for the robot! Redesigning your pharmacy efficiently should be part of your budget.
1. Labour value
You can calculate the approximate value of the robot to you simply in the hours of labour it will replace. Let’s say you spend 50 hours/month scanning barcodes for the Falsified Medicines Directive (no longer applicable in parts of the UK). If your robot replaces that labour, at £10/hour you’re essentially hiring someone for the job. Bear in mind most providers estimate that a lifespan of a pharmacy dispensing robot is around 10 years. Of course, this applies for any task, not just scanning barcodes. An awareness of the time your team spends on specific tasks is important here.
2. Value-creating tasks
Of course, replacing manual labour frees your team’s time up for value-creating tasks. If your pharmacy team can now use their time for private clinics and services, then the robot is even more valuable. Check out our suggested list of the top Digital Health services to offer in your pharmacy if you haven’t yet decided on the services you want to offer.
3. Audit/Loss Prevention
With the reduction in mistakes, both losses and liabilities can play a part in how valuable a robot is for your pharmacy business. Though, there is debate about the immediacy of mistake reduction. Your team do after all have to adapt to working with the robot.
4. Business Model Changes
Of course, if you’re a multiple pharmacy owner, you might be considering a more expensive industrial-strength option. This can allow for a hub-and-spoke model of pharmacy. This is a far more efficient model and can greatly improve your margins to the power of however many spoke pharmacies you have.
All in all, what you spend on the robot of course correlates with what the robot does for you – not only in its functionality, but what that allows you to do with your pharmacy business.
Struggling with cashflow?
Provided you have a good credit history, you should be able to get finance packages to cover long-term asset purchases.
Picking Your Pharmacy Dispensing Robot
Both are industry-leading, and you’ll be in expert hands whichever provider you choose. Though I would say. from a prospective buyer’s point of view, BD Rowa’s website is far easier to navigate and find what you need as a community pharmacist. (though of course, you can use the links in this guide and it makes it a lot easier!)
This is what people think of when they think of Pharmacy Robots, especially for Community Pharmacy purposes.
- Increase the efficiency of the dispensing process and reduce queues.
- Utilise shelf space efficiently
- Monitors expiry dates reducing the risk of out-of-date stock being dispensed
- Assists, rather than replace, your pharmacy technicians’ workload. Searching for prescriptions becomes a thing of the past.
BD Rowa – Rowa Smart/VMAX
The Rowa Smart is BD’s entry-level offering, which has, in their words, “everything you need and nothing you don’t”. This is probably going to be your option if budget is paramount. In my experience of talking to pharmacists, the vast majority of you probably now feel directly addressed.
It’s not directly comparable with Omnicell’s Medimat, as that’s a completely bespoke option. I mention it to give you a benchmark of value. The VMAX is BD Rowa’s bespoke “build-a-bot” option.
The Rowa Smart
- Comes in 11 different sizes, with 3-4 different lengths across 2 different heights and widths.
- Starting at around £50,000, it’s one of the lowest price points you’re likely to pay to start your foray into pharmacy automation.
- Operating sound is 48db – between Quiet Library and Moderate Rainfall according to the American Academy of Audiology.
- Electricity Usage (important with price hikes) 285-540W
- Only available in White
The Rowa VMAX
- Comes in 11 different sizes, with 3-4 different lengths across 2 different heights and widths.
- Bespoke pricing based on modules selected
- Operating sound is 49db – only marginally louder than the Rowa Smart.
- Electricity Usage (important with price hikes) 348-6500W
- Available in White & Anthracite (like a carbon black/grey).
- Significantly lower energy costs than Medimat. (Rowa Smart 115W lower in Standby mode/VMAX 52W lower.)
- Cleaning Module for automated cleaning
- If I was going to have to navigate future upgrades by myself, I’d much rather use BD Rowa’s website.
- If you want to automate everything in your pharmacy, BD Rowa has a wider range of products in their ecosystem.
Omnicell – Medimat
Omnicell’s Medimat is their latest innovation for retail pharmacy, adapted from their Hospital Pharmacy offering. Their pricing model, as well as product model, is completely bespoke. Which to be honest, makes sense. To compare to the Rowa Smart, you’d have to select the most stripped-down version of the Medimat.
The Omnicell Medimat
- Completely made-to-measure sizes, with options for different shapes, straight/U-shaped/L-shaped/Parallel
- Bespoke Pricing based on modules selected
- Operating sound is described as Low-Noise with sound-insulated housing.
- Electricity Usage – 400W-1200W
- 4 different colours to match pharmacy branding.
- Storage. The Rowa doesn’t give any information about storage, whereas Omnicell has innovated a new smart shelving system. Unconfirmed, but expect greater storage flexibility with the Medimat.
- More colour options.
- Xpress Module offers high-speed Chaotic Storage dispensing.
- I love Omnicell’s additional software for medication compliance
By the time you’ve stripped the Medimat down to compare it to the Rowa Smart, or built comparable VMAX and Medimat models, I imagine that pricing will be very similar.
My lasting impression of BD Rowa & Omnicell is that BD Rowa is the Apple, and Omnicell is the Microsoft of the Pharmacy Dispensing Robot world. That is to say, they’re both powerhouses. Realistically either is going to be a good option, but it comes down to both taste and very specific needs.
Apple vs Microsoft?
BD’s offerings look cleaner, they’re easier to understand and, for community pharmacy at least, there is more hardware in their ecosystem if you like keeping things consistent.
Omnicell seems a bit techier – less polished but more hardcore. Where BD Rowa seems to offer more hardware, (again, for Community Pharmacy) Omnicell’s software (worth checking out) is a force to be reckoned with.
They both have all the necessary add-ons to completely automate your prescription production line. We’ll update this article at a later point to include more functions and features if enough people request it.
And realistically, it will probably come down to personal preference. We know many pharmacy owners who have opted for Dispensing Robots, and these providers get the best feedback for experience. Both have pros and cons compared to each other, so ultimately it’ll be down to which pros and cons suit your pharmacy and your situation.
Automating your pharmacy?
If you’re considering Pharmacy Dispensing Robots in the process of automating your pharmacy, you might be interested to learn about other areas you can improve on. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Automating Your Pharmacy. It’s a comprehensive breakdown of all the steps you need to take to set up.