Clinical Center News
Summer 2022

Renovated Pharmacy begins phased opening

Medication preparation and dispensing services will be supported by state-of-the-art automation

Woman picking up prescription from Clinical Center Pharmacy
A new Outpatient medication pick-up area features three transaction windows with enhanced sound absorption to help with patient privacy.

Who says you can’t come home again?

After five years of construction and operating out of temporary locations, the Clinical Center’s Pharmacy will be reopening in its renovated space in the Southeast wing on the first floor of the hospital.

Development of the Pharmacy has been guided by four key principles: 

  • Safety of patients and staff; 
  • Efficiency to save time, money and eliminate errors; 
  • Positive staff impact by creating a workplace with high morale, excitement and engagement, and 
  • Regulatory compliance to ensure that the Clinical Center’s Pharmacy meets or exceeds any regulations governing its facility or operations.

The 10,000 square foot facility will incorporate the Pharmacy's outpatient, unit-dose and intravenous admixture unit (IVAU) operations into a single location. The outpatient section opened in early May 2022 followed by the unit-dose section opening in the new space at the end of May and the IVAU coming online in the Fall.

Cross-departmental teams worked to ensure that the project provided uninterrupted, safe pharmaceutical care for Clinical Center patients. Medication preparation and dispensing services are supported by state-of-the-art automation to protect patient safety and streamline operations.

“The NIH invested extensive thought and resources into planning and building a Pharmacy that supports our three pillars of patient safety, clinical quality, and world class research,” said Dr. James Gilman, CEO of the hospital.

“I especially want to thank the Pharmacy staff - both those who actively contributed to this project and those who ensured safe continuity of operations for our valued patients during construction,” added Gilman.

While many things changed behind the scenes, the impact on the patient experience was minimal. Patients meet with a facilitator during the check-in process, continue to check in at a kiosk and the waiting area in front of the travel office remains the same.

A new outpatient medication pick-up area features three transaction windows with several features to help with patient privacy: frosted glass dividers and acoustic wall coverings and sound absorbing ceiling panels.

“Our goal was to move from outdated to outstanding, and I think we’ve hit the mark,” said Capt. Rick DeCederfelt, Acting Chief of the Pharmacy Department.

Behind the scenes there will be a number of new procedures that will be invisible to patients, but improve the patient experience and safety. A new system automates the storage and retrieval of prescriptions making pick-up faster, more accurate and more efficient.

At the core of the Pharmacy will be the XR-2 Automated Central Pharmacy System, a robotic medication management system that stores and dispenses medications. The XR-2 robot weighs over 20,000 pounds and is so massive it had to arrive in two separate deliveries. Simply unloading the crates of materials from the delivery truck took over four hours.

The robot has five auto stop buttons and eight cameras for safety and Pharmacy staff completed training on the system in February 2022.

The Pharmacy has 44 cold units to accommodate medications that need to be stored at different temperatures. There are thirty-six refrigerators, six -20° Celsius freezers and two freezers that can store medication at -80° Celsius.

To support prescription mail services, there is a separate area for packing medication shipments and special secure package doors to support efficient pick-up by mail carriers.

When the IVAU comes online, it will be protected by High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters placed throughout the facility to filter the air supply. Differential pressure, temperature and humidity will be continuously watched through the Pharmacy’s Environmental Monitoring System and the NIH Clinical Center’s building automation system.

The renovated IVAU follows a single hood single room concept which makes it easier to isolate a compounding area, where customized medications are made, and continue operations if problems arise.

“We’ve invested in long term sustainability of the sterile environment and focused on excellence by creating in-house standards exceeding regulations and industry best practices to support and conduct clinical research by providing safe, high-quality care - one patient, and one medication, at a time,” added DeCederfelt.

This is a new and complex system, and well worth the investment.

- Donovan Kuehn with contributions from Esther Jeon, Christina Martin, Nadia Guirguis, Falguni Kanthan  and Marilyn Farinre

What do these terms mean?

Outpatient pharmacy – dispenses medications to patients who visit the hospital periodically for check-up or treatment visits as a part of their research protocol.

Unit-dose pharmacy – prepares medications in individual or small size components for patients while they are at the Clinical Center.

Intravenous admixture unit (IVAU) – formulates and packages sterile products on a case-by-case basis to fulfill medical prescriptions for patients while they are at the Clinical Center.

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