Many patients require medication during a hospital stay - ranging from minor pain control to strong narcotics - and safety is a top priority for staff when administering these drugs.

Technology in the form of a special vending machine provides timely and safe access to medication for staff at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.

“Pyxis is a vending machine. We call it an automated drug dispensing cabinet,” says Anne Hiltz, senior director of the pharmacy and renal program at the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

“When nurses need to administer medication to patients, they go to this cabinet and they retrieve the medications prior to giving them to their patients.”

There are 14 Pyxis machines located in various patient care areas throughout the Halifax hospital. The machines are accessed by biometric ID.

“So, nursing staff when they use it are going to place their fingerprint on it and only when you do that will the machine be live,” says Laurel Ross, operations manager of the QEII pharmacy.

Once the Pyxis is securely activated, the medication can be dispensed.

“They will select the patient and the profile as entered by the pharmacist in the central dispensary will appear on the screen,” says Ross. “They will select the medication that they need, that drawer will pop open, they’ll remove the medication and close the door.”

Before medication can be retrieved from the cabinet and administered to a patient, it will have been checked by the pharmacist for things like appropriateness of therapy and drug interactions.

“So, by the time that the nurse gives it to the patient, all those checks and balances are taken care of, and so this results in a much enhanced system from a patient’s safety perspective,” says Hiltz.

She says Pyxis cuts down on things like adverse drug effects and also increases efficiency, allowing nurses to get medication to patients faster.

“In a non-Pyxis environment, most of the time it requires the drug to actually come from the central pharmacy to the nursing unit,” says Hiltz. “There can be a time lag there.”

“Rather than pharmacy sending a 24-hour supply from downstairs, supplemented by ward stock and narcotics on the nursing unit, it’s one-stop shopping for them,” says Ross.

The hospital plans to install a total of 40 machines by 2017.