A recent report about robotic drug dispensers, a kind of technology used more and more often in hospitals, found that the dispensers may be more likely to contain harmful bacteria, and be able to spread those bacteria to medications and patients.
According to the report, hospital staff in North Carolina found harmful Bacillus cereus germs during a routine test of drugs dispensed by a pharmacy robot system. The germ is not only potentially harmful to humans, it is resistant to many common disinfectants, including alcohol. Bacillus cereus is commonly associated with certain kinds of food poisoning, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
While the most common effects of Bacillus cereus infection are digestive problems or vomiting, the germ has been known to cause lung infections, gangrene, brain swelling and even death.
The study says that the germ outbreak was traced back to parts of the robot cleaning system which, surprisingly, isn’t considered a ‘sterile’ part of the machine and has no formal cleaning or maintenance procedures from the manufacturer–other than suggestions of occasional “fogging” with alcohol.
In the North Carolina case, there were no reported cases of the germ spreading to patients, but experts say the risk of such a spread is possible, especially for drugs given by injection. This makes the presence of harmful germs in the pharmacy robots especially disturbing, since they are used specifically to prepare sterile drugs for injection.
The authors of the study and other experts say that the makers of the pharmacy robots should come up with more specific guidelines about keeping the robots clean and free of unwanted and potentially dangerous germs. They also suggest using the robot in the clean rooms of hospital pharmacies, which may help limit exposure to contaminants. Regular testing of drugs dispensed by the pharmacy robots is also necessary, the report says.