Without a robot, all the pills for Taupō's five rest homes would still be packaged in Rotorua.
Packaging up the daily pills for elderly patients is a huge logistical challenge. So big that up until this year, a pharmacy in Rotorua prepared the daily medicine for Taupō's rest home patients.
Once a week a pharmacist from Rotorua drove around Taupō rest homes to deliver individual scripts in blister packs.
Seeing a need for a local service, Unichem Mainstreet Taupō Pharmacy owners Mike Riordan and Ayman Al Ibousi brought in the services of an Australian robot to help. Last year the JVM Sachet Packer and Vizen DE Checker was tested for several months, staff were trained remotely and now medicines in sachets are delivered daily to Taupō's rest homes.
"The new machines offer what the rest homes want, a daily sachet for each patient. The sachets are easy to check and easy to open and more user-friendly," said Ayman.
The JVM Sachet Packer looks like something Willy Wonka would have dreamed of having in his chocolate factory. It is a cabinet filled with all the different types of pills, humming and clicking away as it selects a daily dose. It then sends it off to the Vizen DE Checker to be recorded and then the entire meds for the day for one rest home are produced.
Ayman says 2 per cent of the scripts need to be redone, mainly due to rejection by the Vizen DE Checker when two pills fall perfectly on top of each other and are recorded as one pill only.
"Kids love the robot, they hear the noises and can't resist coming around to have a look. They are amazed we have a robot in the pharmacy," says Ayman.
Once the robot (and the humans) had got the hang of the rest home meds, Ayman said they turned their attention to the big demand for repeat scripts where sachets are required. He said they came to an understanding with the medical practices throughout the district about how to dispense the medicine for patients who require ongoing treatment.
"Instead of receiving approximately 20 calls throughout the week, there is now one email."
Ayman says the robot has created employment at the pharmacy. Previously one technician would prepare blister packs and now three technicians and a pharmacist are doing the sachets.
He says getting a robot to do the work means the pharmacist has more time to spend helping people with their medicine, making sure they are taking it correctly and have all the information they need.
"Being a pharmacist is more than dispensing medicine. It is also making sure the patient has a good understanding about how to take the medicine and how it works, what they need to take care of, how it interacts with other medication."
With competition from online retailers and big-box discount retailers, Ayman says they see it as being increasingly important to continue to offer an 11-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week service.
"People want accessibility, especially as there is an increasing number of services pharmacists are allowed to perform. We have people coming in at 7pm after they have put the kids to bed, having their B12 injection or asking for treatment for bladder infections.
"Our pharmacy has been like this since it opened in the 1980s."