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Date Published: March 27, 2008

Robot Counts Out Pills

March 27, 2008 By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent MUNSTER

The new robot installed at Fagen Pharmacy's new Munster branch might not be the latest model or even look like a robot in the traditional sense. With the capacity to fill 150 prescriptions per hour -- giving the store's pharmacists and pharmacy technicians more time with customers -- the ScriptPro behemoth set in the center of the inventory aisles doesn't have to. It just needs to drop pills in the bottle.

The robotic arm holding the vial moves the bottle to the correct medication inside the pill dispenser at Fagen Pharmacy inside the Hammond Clinic, in Munster, on Tuesday the machine also labels the medication.

Employees at the Hammond Clinic store on Calumet Avenue have been working with the robot since the store reopened in its new space a little more than a week ago, said Jerry Fagen Jr., the chain's director of pharmacy operations. So far, there have been a few kinks, but they've been more related to the store opening than the robot itself.

The ScriptPro was brought in to eliminate the repetitive work, according to Fagen. Working with the pharmacy's software, the robot determined the 200 most-filled prescriptions, such as penicillin or common blood pressure medications. The employees then fill the robot with the medications and prescription bottles. Once the pharmacy technician or pharmacist types in an order, it's transferred to the ScriptPro, which then fills it. After the script is filled and labeled, the technician can't remove it until they verify on screen that the pills are correct and check out by bar code that they're the one who's completed the order.

At first, the employees were not happy about adding the $100,000 mechanical employee to their ranks, Fagen admits. But bringing in the robot was never about eliminating employees; rather, it was about making their lives easier.

"Our goal is twofold: To give our employees the best, and to give our customers the best," he said. "Our employees are the magic that brings people back, so we want that thing to do as much of the manual labor as possible so that we can concentrate on customer service.

Nancy Will, a pharmacy tech with Fagen for the last seven years, said they haven't christened the ScriptPro with a name yet. But so far, they haven't wanted to toss it out on its back. "I think we've done well with it for the training we've had," she said. "It's been a new challenge for all of us."

Two more of Fagen's stores are candidates for a ScriptPro robot, Fagen said, and will likely be fitted with them once they have more experience with the Munster robot, Fagen said.