Company's system keeps medication errors, paperwork, in check

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Matt Freed, Post-GazetteGary L. Duty, left, Millennium Pharmacy Systems president and chief executive officer, and Lena E. Sturgeon, Millennium's chief operating officer, show off some of the technology the company uses to track medications.
Click photo for larger image.

Doctors, hospitals and nursing homes don't like to talk about it, but medical errors represent one of the biggest problems they confront when providing care. Something seemingly simple as getting a prescription in the right hands at the right time and the right dose can be a logistical nightmare.

It is an issue that is driving growth at Millennium Pharmacy Systems Inc., a privately held Pine company. Its technology, used in nursing homes, tracks drugs from the time doctors prescribe them to the instant patients ingest them, documenting each step in real time, with warnings to prevent various errors, including drug incompatibility. It also creates electronic medical records for each patient, including a photograph, with a system of checks and balances in the dispensing and administering of prescriptions.

Gary L. Duty, Millennium's co-founder, president and chief executive officer, said he worked to create the system because "the way medications were dispensed was scary." He contends his company's technology, called MPSRx, virtually eliminates drug dispensing errors, while saving time, reducing costs and giving nurses more time for patient care.

"It's been a very exciting thing to watch because nursing homes still were generating a great deal of paperwork. It has prepared us for a paperless system," said Janet Maxwell, vice president of operations for PennMed Consultants, a Lehigh County company that uses Millennium to dispense drugs to its 18 nursing homes statewide. "We were destroying trees like you wouldn't believe because the paperwork was phenomenal,"

Millennium, which employs 145 full-time workers, currently serves 60 nursing homes in Pennsylvania and Maryland from its headquarters and satellite locations in Delaware and Montgomery counties and Gaithersburg, Md. It expects to continue growing, aided by yesterday's announcement that it has raised $40 million in equity financing for expansion. All of its growth has come internally, unaided by acquisitions.

Computerized systems for dispensing prescriptions already are in use in hospitals and elsewhere in health care, but Mr. Duty said his company is the first to apply such technology to long-term care facilities.

Millennium's impact requires an understanding of traditional hands-on methods of dispensing drugs to nursing homes.

Traditional pharmacies, who receive prescriptions by fax, fill them for 30 days by putting pills by hand in the plastic wells of so-called bingo cards for each patient. The cards then are shipped to nursing homes, where nurses must contend with hundreds, even thousands, of cards in a cart, creating problems in dispensing the drugs on time and recording each dose accurately.

Although no studies have been done on the topic, Mr. Duty said the system was rife with errors.

So Millennium developed computer software to eliminate those errors. In its system, a doctor's prescription is entered into a computer and sent immediately to Millennium, whose pharmacists seated at computers can check it.

The system uses the same barcodes that pharmaceutical companies assign to their drugs.

Once approved, the prescription is electronically transferred to a computerized dispensing machine that puts each dose into a separate packet containing a barcode and patient name. The long band of packets in alphabetical or room order is rolled into a wheel and sent to the nursing home.

With medications in perfect order, nurses equipped with laptop computers tear off each patient's medications and put them in a bin of a special cart.

To dispense medications, the nurse scans the barcode on each packet to verify the correct time and dosage. If the computer approves the dose. it is given to the patient, and the nurse confirms via computer that the drug was administered. As such, the computer stores entire medication histories for each patient.

If a nurse forgets a medication or attempts to give the wrong drug -- or the right drug at the wrong time -- the system alerts the nurse to the error. And the computer is not satisfied until the nurse acknowledges the error and documents corrective action.

Millennium ships drugs every two or three days, rather than monthly, so prescription changes do not force nursing homes to throw away weeks' or even a month's worth of unused drugs. Real-time changes in medications prevent delays and mistakes typical of the traditional system.

Lena E. Sturgeon, a registered nurse who serves as Millennium's chief operating officer, said the system pits the electronic world against the old-fashioned manual world, and the result is better accuracy. The fact it was designed by nurses to benefit nurses represents a key reason for its success.

"We have changed what we do in the pharmacy to help nurses," she said.

David Templeton can be reached at or 412-263-1578.


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