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LDS Hospital pharmacy has robot filling prescriptions

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SALT LAKE CITY — For all the scary movies about robots taking over the world, the folks at the LDS Hospital pharmacy don't seem to mind a bit.

A new robot has been spinning and whirring around in the pharmacy for a couple of months now. So far, there haven’t been any takeovers.

"It's an amazing piece of equipment," pharmacy manager Robb Dengg said. "We held an open house recently to show it off. We bought a bunch of cookies, and they were gone in 20 minutes because we had so many people coming down to see it.”

Pharmacists at the hospital named the robot Igor. The reason? They say it’s because the robot is overworked, underappreciated, never sleeps and never gets a break.

“In one day, for example, the robot will fill approximately 1,800 medications,” pharmacy director Pete Van Aarle said. "We don’t know what the limit is of this yet. It’s limitless, much like Jimmer Fredette, in terms of scoring.”

(Yes, even robots are now being compared to the BYU basketball player.)

For all the fun workers have been having with Igor, though, they say the reason behind it is extremely serious.

"The main purpose of the robot is simply for safety," Dengg said. “Mistakes can happen at any place. It’s just unfortunate, and we’re all human.”

Scary would be giving a patient the wrong medication by mistake. Using lasers and barcodes, Igor makes sure that doesn't happen.

Staffers put drugs into small packets, then stock pegs with those packets. There are about 570 pegs within Igor’s reach. Each packet has a unique barcode. The robot scans those barcodes, uses suction cups to pick the drugs, and then drops them into an envelope. That envelope is then sent to wherever it's needed in the hospital.

"It's able to pick medications very, very quickly and accurately," Van Aarle explained. "It's based on barcode technology, which is kind of fun. It's like the grocery store, but there's no food here — just great drugs."

Igor replaces an older robot that took up a lot more room. The older robot was called Phillip Cartwright. (Get it? Fill Up Cart Right.)

Hospital staffers also say having a robot doesn't mean human jobs are lost because it actually takes more people to make sure the robot is stocked and well maintained.

"It actually makes our lives very easy," Dengg said.

As popular Igor has been with adults needing medication, it has been an even bigger hit with children.

"They think it's amazing and it's going to speak to them,” Dengg said. “They always think of Darth Vader and Wall-E.”

And if children like it, then it's really not that scary at all.


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