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Full speed ahead: This technology is saving time and lives

Griffin Duke Spirit

When I met Kevin Orca, an inpatient pharmacist at Adventist Health Sonora, I was immediately transported to nearly a decade ago, when I was a licensed pharmacy technician in a hospital—where I recalled spending hours performing tedious manual inventories and hand-writing expiration dates of medications. Clearly, it was not my calling, and I confessed this to Kevin as he led me through the energetic inpatient hospital pharmacy of Adventist Health Sonora.

As soon as Kevin told me to “look for the blue box” in the corner of the pharmacy, I realized that times have changed dramatically.

“There it is!” I exclaimed, eager to get a first-person glance at the innovative pharmaceutical technology that is saving time, money and more importantly—lives.

It’s called Kit Check.

Perched next to a desktop computer in the corner of the pharmacy, the Kit Check looked like a large microwave. Actually, it reminded me of the “fun size” (see also: tiny) oven I had in my first studio apartment—only the Kit Check was a cheerful shade of baby blue, which added a nice contrast to the otherwise neutral tones of the room.

Surrounded by about a dozen pharmacy staff buzzing from station to station, I immediately saw how time was of the essence there—pharmacists and technicians were so “zoned in” on their tasks of pulling medications, sorting and delivering that I felt the urgent need to cling to a wall to stay out of their way. But Kevin had other ideas: He didn’t want to show me how they use Kit Check—he wanted me to use it myself.

So what is Kit Check? In simple terms, it’s an automated inventory system that uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) to scan trays of medications. Once scanned, the Kit Check computer program will tell the technician or pharmacist what medications are on the tray, what might be missing, or what has expired. The Kit Check completes its scans in a few seconds—versus the hours it might take a technician to perform these tasks manually—and with Kit Check, there are no errors. It’s so easy to use, could do it.

Kevin guided me through the process of labeling a medication (don’t worry, it was just water solution) and explained that once the medications arrive, they’re scanned and labeled with special tags that have microchips in them. After popping the label onto the bottle, Kevin gave me a demonstration of the Kit Check scanning process. He grabbed a crash cart tray (which are filled with medications and stored in various locations all over the hospital), placed it in the Kit Check, closed the doors and in one click completed the scan. “Easy peasy,” he said.

Kevin remembers when it wasn’t as “easy-peasy” to get through a shift in the pharmacy—all the time it took to inventory, pull and manage medications before Kit Check was tedious and taxing on everyone within the pharmacy team. “I’ve been here since 2012,” he said, “I was a student here, did my rotations here, and in fact—I remember spending countless hours verifying expiration dates, writing them down—basically doing the ‘student grunt work’! It took a long time. It wasn’t this easy.” He added that errors were more common, too.

Kit Check also features an alert system that will pop up on the screen if a medication in the hospital has been recalled by the FDA. Kevin said this happened recently, and that technicians were able to pull the affected medications in less than a day. “We have kits everywhere,” he said, “and we used Kit Check to tell us exactly where these medications were. Before, we would’ve had to go through each kit manually—it could’ve taken days—and we might not have even gotten it right because of rushing to pull them all.”

According to Dr. Andre Rossi, the director of pharmacy at Adventist Health Sonora, it’s been more than just time the pharmacy team has saved since utilizing Kit Check in 2014. It’s also saved on cost, provided invaluable data and statistics about their ordering needs, and been good for overall morale. “We’re not only more confident about accuracy—now we’re able to shift some of our work load to other areas and concentrate on things we otherwise did not have enough time in a day to accomplish.”

One of those accomplishments is improved patient care—because the pharmacy staff are spending less time doing manual inventories, they have more time to spend working in the outpatient pharmacy. “We have a pharmacy window that we operate in the evening hours for the community,” Kevin said, adding that because Sonora is a small town there are no 24-hour pharmacies for emergency prescriptions—they’re it.

Before having Kit Check as part of their daily routines, Kevin said he rarely had enough technicians to help work the outpatient pharmacy window at night. “Or I was having to do it myself—which I didn’t mind, but I was also having to oversee the whole hospital,” he said, adding that now it’s great because the technicians can spend more time helping patients, and the patients are happy because they don’t have to wait as long to get their medications. It’s a win-win.

Since implementing this new technology in 2014, all Adventist Health facilities have decided to jump aboard the Kit Check ship, and this makes Kevin happy. If it’s one thing he appreciates about his job, it’s helping people in the most efficient, caring and accurate way possible. “At the forefront of what we do, it’s always about patient safety and doing the right thing at the right time,” Kevin said, “and Kit Check has made that infinitely easier.”