|Publication number||USRE40510 E1|
|Application number||US 09/608,013|
|Publication date||Sep 23, 2008|
|Filing date||Jun 30, 2000|
|Priority date||May 7, 1996|
|Also published as||US5771657, USRE42730, USRE42766, USRE42937|
|Publication number||09608013, 608013, US RE40510 E1, US RE40510E1, US-E1-RE40510, USRE40510 E1, USRE40510E1|
|Inventors||Christopher J. Lasher, Dennis W. Rice, Michael J. Szesko, Frank Modrowsky, James McErlean, Michael Kennedy, Paul Thomas Shupert|
|Original Assignee||Medco Health Solutions, Inc.|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (38), Non-Patent Citations (2), Referenced by (24), Classifications (17), Legal Events (6)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
This invention is directed to an integrated system for automatically filling prescriptions and then assembling multiple prescriptions in a common package or unit with literature which relates to the prescription and/or marketing materials.
The use of mail service to fill prescriptions has been highly successful in lowering the costs of providing drugs to consumers. The filling of prescriptions and mailing the filled prescriptions to consumers is labor intensive and a pharmacy can significantly reduce its costs, improve quality, and reduce turn around time by automating the prescription filling and assembling procedures.
Semi-automated prescription dispensing machines which can automatically count the tablets or capsules of a unique prescription have had a significant impact in the drug industry. However, use of these machines still require many manual steps to complete a patient's order. For example, the positioning of the bottle under the proper chute is controlled by a technician or pharmacist and after filling the bottle, the prescription has to be further handled manually to effect mailing of the prescription to the patient.
Patients or families using mail services to fill prescriptions often receive multiple prescriptions. Data suggests that about 50 percent of mail service for prescription drugs involves orders for at least two separate prescriptions. The advantages of a system which automatically fills the respective separate prescriptions, combines the prescriptions of each order and prepares the orders for mailing are readily apparent. An automated system would produce great labor savings in what heretofore has been a highly labor intensive process and at the same time wold reduce time required to process prescriptions.
While the advantages of such a system are apparent, there are a number of problems which have to be solved in order to automatically fill and combine multiple prescription orders into a single package. The multiple parts of an order have to be brought automatically into close proximity at a packaging location. There is a need to place literature about the prescriptions in each shipping container along with the prescription. Any system which automatically distributes drugs must have a number of controls and checks to insure that the correct prescription is filled into the correct bottle which has been labeled correctly and the correct bottle is placed in the correct shipping container. Any deviation from the correct operations and handling of the prescription could be expected to have serious consequences. Lastly, in order to be economical for its intended purpose, the system must operate a high volume throughput.
In the system of the invention, a computer system called a Pharmacy Automation Computer (PAC) controls print, apply, and load stations (PAL stations), which print prescription labels, apply the labels to prescription bottles and load the labeled prescription bottles onto carriers, a carrier conveyer system which moves the carriers containing the prescription bottles from one station to the next, automatic drug dispensing machines which dispense pharmaceutical tablets or capsules into the labeled empty bottles in the carriers, bottle cappers which apply caps to the bottles, printers which print information corresponding to each prescription order, order consolidation and packing stations (OCP stations) which unload the bottles from the carriers and transport the bottles into shipping containers and which pack the printed information into the chipping containers along with the prescription bottles. The system dispenses both tablets and capsules and the word “pill” is used herein to refer to pharmaceuticals, both tablets or capsules, or any other kind of solid pharmaceutical dose in countable form. In accordance with the invention, PAC will receive the orders for prescriptions, each of which may contain an order for multiple prescriptions or a single prescription. The multiple prescriptions of an order may be for a single patient or two or more patients in a patient group, such as a family. PAC stores the information for each order and controls the PAL stations to print and apply labels to the bottles corresponding to each prescription. Bottle loaders at the PAL stations load the labeled bottles into assigned locations in carriers. The identification of the assigned locations for each order is stored by PAC. When the order is for two or more prescriptions to be automatically dispensed, these prescriptions will be normally assigned carriers progressing through the system simultaneously. In most instances, the several bottles of a given order will be placed in a common rank of carriers progressing synchronously through corresponding parts of the system in separate lanes.
Following loading of the bottles in the carrier, the conveyer system will transport the carriers with the labeled bottles to the automatic drug dispensing machines, where tablets or capsules of the prescriptions are automatically dispensed into the prescription bottles. Following this operation, the conveyer system transports the now filled bottles in the carriers to the bottle cappers where the prescription bottles are capped, whereupon the bottle carriers holding the now filled and capped prescription bottles are transported to the OCP stations.
The OCP stations are provided with bottle unloaders, each of which comprises a turntable designed to receive four bottle carriers simultaneously. The rank of carriers progressing synchronously through the lanes will all be received on the turntable of the same station. A robotic arm picks out the bottles from the carriers on the turntable corresponding to a given order and places them on a bottle conveyer, which carries the bottles to a loading mechanism. In the loading mechanism, the prescription bottles are bar code verified and then the bottles are loaded in a shipping container.
PAC also controls printers to print literature corresponding to each patient order. The printers print the information and enclose it in envelopes and place each envelope on a conveyer which transports the envelopes from the printers to the OCP stations. At each OCP station, the envelopes corresponding to the orders in the carriers on the turntable are received and are placed in a literature dispensing mechanism. Each envelope is inserted into a shipping container before the prescription bottles for the corresponding patient order are loaded into the shipping container. When the literature and the prescription bottles have been bar code verified and have been loaded into the shipping container with an envelope containing printed information, the shipping container is sealed and in most cases will be dropped onto a mail conveyer which carries the completed order to mailing where the packages are sorted by destination and sent to the patient.
The operation of the automated system of the invention is initiated by the entry of customer orders. From a customer order, a production order is generated, which upon being entered in the system is classified in accordance with a pre-established protocol. The production order will be classified as either a Manual-Dispense Production Order, an Auto-Pack Production Order, a Large Production Order, and/or a Marriage Production Order. The Manual-Dispense Order is one that is assigned to be manually filled and packed because of the nature of the prescription, such as because it is for a narcotic or a controlled substance, because it is for a compound, or because it is for a drug which is not in a solid dose countable form. The present invention is concerned with the automatically handled orders which include the Autopack Production Order, the Large Production Order and the Marriage Production Order. An Autopack Production Order is one containing one to four prescriptions for tablets or capsules, all of which are to be automatically dispensed and automatically assembled in a shipping container. A Large Production Order is like an Autopack Production Order except that it is for more than four prescriptions or requires more than four prescription bottles to be filled. In the specific described embodiment, only four prescription bottles can be automatically assembled in one shipping container. A Marriage Production Order is one in which some of the order must be manually filled and packed and some of which is to be automatically dispensed and packed.
As shown in the schematic illustration of
In the specific embodiment of the invention as shown in
As shown in
In the specific embodiment of the invention, there are four PAL stations 14 as shown in FIG. 2. At the PAL stations 14, prescription labels are printed under control of the PAC corresponding to the prescriptions being automatically filled and the printed labels are applied to the bottles. As shown in
As shown in
The bottle carrier is also provided with an RFID tag 46 which uniquely identifies the carrier. The carrier identification can be read out from the RFID tag by radio frequency transducers. The RFID tags and transducers are available from Data Logic Company. After a carrier is loaded at a PAL station, the RFID tag on the carrier is read and stored by PAC 10 in the order file associated with the prescription orders of bottles loaded on the carrier.
Each bottle becomes unique when the label is applied to the bottle, and it must be placed at a predetermined scheduled position within the bottle carrier by a PAL station 14. It is critical that no deviation occur between the logical position of the bottle determined by PAC and the physical location of the bottle on the carrier. Also a given Auto-Pack Production order for more than one prescription may have prescription bottles in up to four different carriers, but the carriers will usually all be in the same rank in their progression through the system so that they will be loaded at approximately the same time by the PAL stations. PAC must maintain in the order file the identification of the carrier in which the bottle of each prescription is located, and the location in the carrier where each bottle is located. PAC will obtain the carrier identification after the carrier is loaded by the reading of the carrier RFID tag when the carrier is positioned for transfer out of the PAL station.
As shown in
After the loading cycle, an RFID tag reader will read the unique RFID tag identification and communicate it to PAC. The carrier will then be released by the PAL station onto a conveyer 45 which carries the carrier loaded with the labeled empty prescription bottles to an automatic dispensing machine 23, of which there are four, one for each PAL station 14.
As shown in
As shown in
The individual drug dispensers and their organization into buffer assemblies is similar to that described in the above-mentioned copending application. As described in this application, and as shown in schematically in
Because more than one bottle may be approaching a drug dispenser to be filled from that dispenser, each work-to list may contain several index numbers one for each of the prescription bottles to be filled from the dispenser loaded in a carrier approaching the dispenser. The lowest index number is processed first in each work-to list so that each successive bottle will receive the corresponding counted out prescription by the dispenser. If a drug dispenser in the dispensing machine senses that the dispenser may have failed to count out the correct number of tablets or capsules or fails to operate to release the tablets or capsules into the intended prescription bottle, this failure would be reported to the PAC 10 which will record the failure in the order file. The faulty dispenser is taken out of service by the PAC 10, which schedules no new prescriptions for that dispenser until it has been serviced and rendered operative.
After the prescription bottles in the carrier have been filled by one of the automatic drug dispensing machines 23, a conveyer 56 transports the carrier to a bottle capper 25 where the bottles capped while the bottles remain in the carrier. At the bottle capper 25, the carrier is loaded on an XY indexing table and the carrier is moved on the indexing table to position each bottle under the bottle capper where the bottle is capped. If the bottle capper detects that a bottle is not properly capped, this information is communicated to PAC and entered in the order file.
As explained above, the carriers are organized into ranks with a rank of four carriers progressing through the automatic drug dispensing machines 23 and the bottle cappers 25 synchronously so that the four carriers of a rank exit from the cappers 25 at the same time. From the bottle cappers 25, the conveyers 56 feed the carriers onto an endless conveyer loop 71 which will transport the four carriers of a rank to one of six OCP stations 29.
As shown in the OCP station of
If, because of a malfunction, a literature envelope is not deflected by the deflector 89, because of, for example, an improper bar code on the envelope, the envelope will continue on the conveyer 34 to the end of the conveyer and be dumped into a receptacle at the package quality assurance station 96 as will be described in more detail below. In this circumstance, the bottles of this order will not be packed with a literature pack. When the shipping containers 83 have been verified and filled with a literature pack and with a patient's order, the bag is sealed and dropped onto a conveyer 95 which carries the sealed shipping container to a mailing area where the bag is read and logged and then mailed to the customer. If the bag does not contain a literature pack, then the bag is diverted into a tote 99 which will then be transported by a conveyer 101 to the package quality assurance station 96 where the shipping container will be assembled with the literature pack manually. As shown in
As shown in
As shown in
The operation of the literature dispensing mechanism 91 is schematically illustrated in FIG. 7d. As shown in
While the lower magazine of the pair of magazines 137 and 139 is being unloaded and packed in a bag from the lower position as shown in
As described above, the bar code on the bottles transported by the horizontal star wheel 120 are read by a bar code reader 106. The patient order represented by the bar code read by the bar code reader 106 must agree with the bar code read from the literature pack by bar code reader 144 and with the bar code printed on the shipping container by the bagging machine 81. If there is any discrepancy, the package will be directed into the waiting tote 99 and sent on conveyer 101 to the package quality assurance area 96 where the shipping container and its contents will be manually inspected for resolution of any problem identified.
The above-described operation of the packing of the shipping containers with a literature pack and the bottles of the patient order is carried out for an order comprising a single bottle or containing multiple bottles up to four bottles of an order if the bottles of the patient order are all in the same rank of carriers which will be positioned on the turntable 77. In some instances a patient order will have one or more bottles in two different ranks of carriers. In that instance, this fact will be recorded in the order file by PAC 10 and PAC 10 will direct the robotic arm to place the bottles of the split order on a bottle stream conveyer 108 from which they are sent to bottle sortation and packing station 112 (BSP station) to be described below.
As described above, each bottle unloaded from a carrier at one of the OCP stations has its bar code read and verified by a bar code reader in the robotic arm 79. A discrepancy in this verification will cause OCP station to place the bottle in a bottle stream conveyer 108 to be sent to the bottle quality assurance area 109 where the bottle is manually and electronically inspected. Any bottle which has been identified by PAC as one which may have not been filled with the correct number of tablets or capsules by the automatic dispensing machine is also sent via conveyer 108 to the bottle quality assurance area 109. Also when a bottle capper 25 detects that it failed to properly cap the bottle, this failure will be recorded in the order file and PAC 10 will direct the OCP station to place the corresponding prescription bottle in the bottle stream conveyer 108, which transports the bottle to the bottle quality assurance area 109.
In addition, bottles which require verification that the replenishment of the automated dispensers in the automatic dispensing machines 23 has been accomplished with the correct drug are also sent to the bottle quality assurance area. This latter function is accomplished as follows: PAC 10 maintains a count of the number of tablets or capsules to be dispensed from each drug dispenser in the automatic drug dispensing machines 23. When the number of tablets or capsules in the hopper of a dispenser reaches a predetermined low level, a prescription for the tablets or capsules of that dispenser is selected from the que of prescriptions awaiting filling stored in PAC 10. The prescription is selected to call for a sufficient quantity of tablets or capsules to exhaust the remaining tablets or capsules in that dispenser. The corresponding dispenser is then caused to dispense tablets or capsules in accordance with the predetermined prescription so that the hopper at the dispenser is exhausted of tablets or capsules. This operation is carried out before the PAL station 14 labels a bottle for this corresponding prescription. The tablets or capsules for the prescription will be counted out into the upper buffer of the corresponding dispenser but will not be released from the upper buffer to the lower buffer because the number of tablets or capsules counted out is incomplete. Then when that drug dispenser has been refilled with tablets or capsules, the dispenser will then complete its counting out of the number of tablets or capsules required for the prescription into the upper buffer. When the count is successfully completed, the prescription bottle for this prescription will be labeled and loaded in a carrier by the appropriate PAL station in the appropriate column of the carrier. When this bottle reaches the dispenser, the tablets or capsules will be released into the bottle. Such a bottle which is filled in this manner with part of the tablets or capsules before the dispenser is exhausted and part of the tablets or capsules coming from the next refill of the dispenser is called a crossover bottle. All crossover bottles upon being unloaded at an OCP station 29 are placed in the bottle stream conveyer 108 by the robotic arm 79 to send the crossover bottles to the bottle quality assurance area 109.
In addition to the crossover bottles, the first bottle after the crossover bottle to be filled by any dispenser is also sent to the bottle quality assurance area 109 by being placed in the bottle stream conveyer 108 by the OCP station. When a bottle requiring inspection at the bottle quality assurance area is part of a multiple bottle order, all of the remaining bottles of that order are sent via the conveyer 119 to BSP station 112.
The bottle quality assurance area 109 has several stations at which pharmacists will scan the bar code on the bottles and visually inspect the contents of the bottles. The scan of the bottle bar code will bring up a display on the pharmacist's terminal which includes all the information regarding the particular prescription and order including the drug name, and instructions which identify the reason for the verification. All of the bottles that pass this inspection are inserted by the pharmacist on a bottle stream conveyer 111 to send the inspected bottles to the BSP station 112.
As described above, the robotic arms at the order consolidation and packing stations place individual bottles in the bottle stream conveyer 108 to be sent to BSP station 112 or to the bottle quality assurance area 109. The conveyer 108 leads to a star wheel diverter mechanism 114 which under the control of a controller for the BSP station deposits the bottle in a bottle stream conveyer 116 leading to the bottle quality assurance area 109 or into a bottle stream conveyer 118 leading to BSP station 112.
As shown in
If the literature pack is on the conveyer 34, but because of failure of the bar code reader 125 or the literature sorting mechanism, does not get diverted at station 112, the conveyer 34 will carry the literature package to the package quality assurance area where it can be manually added to the package.
When the order is a marriage order requiring some of the order to be manually filled and some of the order to be automatically filled, a portion of the order to be automatically filled will be filled by the automatic dispensing machines 23 capped by the bottle cappers 25 and inserted into a bag or shipping container at an OCP station 29 along with the literature of this order. This bag will then be diverted into a waiting tote 99 and sent on the conveyer 101 to manual packing area 149 where the rest of the marriage order requiring manual dispensing and packing will be packed with the automatically dispensed portion of the order.
When the order is a large production order requiring more than four bottles for the order, all items of the large production order should be found in the same rank of carriers and loaded onto a turntable at an OCP station. Four bottles of the order will automatically be inserted into a shipping container as described above along with the literature for the order and then this order upon being bagged will be diverted into a waiting tote 99 which will remain at the OCP station to receive the rest of the order. The remaining bottles of the order will then be packed in an additional bag or bags and also diverted into the tote 99 so that all the bags corresponding to a single large order will be assembled in a tote 99. When the order is complete in the waiting tote 99, the tote is sent on the conveyer 101 to the manual packaging area 149 where the order will receive any manually dispensed prescriptions and be packed manually into a mailing package for sending to the patient.
As shown in
The conveyer system is controlled by PAC 10 via carrier conveyer controller 159. When the PAL stations have completed loading of the orders in the batch file into a rank of carriers, PAC 10 issues a move instruction to the conveyer controller 159 to cause the conveyers 45 to transport the rank of carriers now filled with labeled empty prescription bottles to the automatic drug dispensing machines 23. The controller 159 also controls the cappers 25.
The automatic drug dispensing machines are controlled by PAC 10 via automatic dispensing machine controllers 165. Each time a dispensing machine 23 indexes a line of carriers in the machine forward one row, the controller 165 for that dispensing machine will report the indexing to PAC 10 which increments the index count for the dispensing machine 23. In the preferred embodiment of the invention, the dispensing machines 23 are indexed synchronously so that only one index count is required to be kept for all four machines. After each indexing of the carrier trains by one row, PAC 10 instructs the controllers 165 to dispense the tablets or capsules from the lower buffers of those dispensers for which the work-to list contain an index number equal to the index count. PAC 10 also instructs the controller 165 to count tablets or capsules into the upper buffers and stage the tablets or capsules in the lower buffers at the appropriate times as described in the abovementioned copending application. When a dispenser exhausts the tablets or capsules from its storage hopper in counting out tablets or capsules into the upper buffer, PAC 10 will wait until the hopper has been replenished and then will instruct the controller 165 to complete the count from that dispenser. If an automatic drug dispensing machine 23 detects an error in counting out tablets or capsules or in the staging of the tablets or capsules in the lower buffer or in releasing the tablets or capsules from the lower buffer into a prescription bottle, the existence of this error will be signaled to the controller 165 which will report the error to PAC 10 which will store the information indicating a potential error in the filling of the bottle in the order file.
The OCP stations 29 are controlled by the PAC 10 via controllers 169. When a rank of four carriers leave automatic drug dispensing machines 23, PAC 10 determines an OCP station 29 to receive the rank of carriers and directs the carrier conveyer controller 159 to control the carrier loop 71 to move the rank of four carriers to the selected OCP station 29 after the bottles in the carriers have been capped. As the carriers travel to the assigned OCP station 29 from the cappers 25, PAC 10 will send autopublish messages to printers 31 to print documents for each order which has been loaded in the rank of carriers and which is to be packed in OCP station. Each of the stations 29 will be assigned one of the printers 31 and the assigned printer will print literature packs for the orders in a rank of carriers in the reverse sequence that the orders are to be unloaded from the corresponding rank of carriers. When a rank of carriers is sent to an OCP station, PAC 10 will send an unload message to the OCP station controller 169 for that station. This unload message will include the information necessary to unload the bottles, and print the patient order ID on a bag to be presented by the bagging machine at the OCP station. The unload message identifies which carriers contain the bottles of each order, the locations of the bottles of each order in each of the carriers and the sequence in which the orders are to be unloaded. Also, bottles of split orders, bottles to be sent to the BSP station 112 and bottles to be sent to the bottle quality assurance station will be identified in the unload message. From this information, the controller 169 controls the OCP station to unload the bottles from the locations in the four carriers on the turntable as specified in the unload message. The OCP station controllers 169 receive the carrier ID information from RFID tag readers and the BIN numbers read by bar code readers from both the bottles unloaded at the station and the information packets at the station. The controllers 169 also operate the tables 102 and gates 103 at the stations 29 to divert into totes those shipping containers which are to be sent to the package quality assurance area 96 or to manual packing 137.
PAC 10 also instructs a BSP controller 187 which controls the BSP station 112. The controller 187 controls the rotary buffer 113 and controls the printer of the bagging machine 123 to print labels on the bags presented by the bagging machine 123. The controller 187 also receives prescription BIN numbers read from the bottles and the order numbers read from the information packets at the station 112 and controls the diverting mechanism comprising an inclined table and gate at the BSP station 112 to divert selected bags into totes at the BSP station 112. The controller 187 also controls the star wheel 114 to direct bottles received on bottle stream conveyer 108 to the BSP station 112 or to the quality assurance station 109.
The deflectors 89 at the stations 29 and the deflector 127 at the station 112 are controlled by means of controller 194 which receives the patient order ID bar coded on the literature packets read by the bar code readers 87 and 125. The controller 194 verifies that the bar codes read from the literature packs by the bar code reader 87 at an OCP station corresponds with the orders in the unload message received from the PAC 10. The controller 194 operates the deflectors 89 to direct the literature packs into the literature dispensing mechanisms at the OCP station. The controller 194 compares the order identification received from PAC with order numbers read from the literature pack by bar code reader 125 at the BSP station and when a match is detected, controller 194 actuates deflector 127 to direct the literature pack into the literature dispensing mechanism at the BSP station.
PAC 10 controls the tote conveyer 101 by means of a tote conveyer controller 197. The totes on the tote conveyer 101 are identified by RFID tags and these RFID tags are read by an RFID tag reader 199. These tote IDs are transmitted to PAC 10 by the controller 197 so that PAC 10 can match the orders in the totes on the tote conveyer 101 with the tote ID.
PAC 10 also interfaces with computers 201 at the quality assurance area 109 and with computers 203 at the package quality assurance area 96. The computers 201 and 203 provide information to pharmacists or technicians about the orders and prescriptions in the packages and prescription bottles received at these quality assurance areas.
The above-described system automatically dispenses tablets and capsules into prescription bottles, assembles the prescription bottles for a common order into shipping containers, prints literature packs for each order and automatically inserts the literature packs into the shipping containers and prints the mailing labels on the shipping containers so that upon completion of the automatically operated system the order is ready to be mailed.
The above automatic system is accomplished with a very high throughput of orders and, at the same time, provides for checks and balances to make sure that the system is operating properly and provides for automatically diverting orders and bottles for manual inspection for problems in the automatic system that have been detected.
The above description is of a preferred embodiment of the invention and modification may be made thereto without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention which is defined in the appended claims.
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|U.S. Classification||53/55, 53/493, 53/473, 53/168, 53/131.4, 53/251|
|International Classification||B65B57/20, B65G59/00, B65G37/00, B65B61/20, B65B5/10, A61J7/00|
|Cooperative Classification||B65B61/20, B65B5/103|
|European Classification||A61J7/00F1, B65B5/10B1, B65B61/20|
|Jul 23, 2008||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: MERCK MEDCO MANAGED CARE, INC., NEW JERSEY
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:LASHER, CHRISTOPHER J.;RICE, DENNIS WAYNE;SZESKO, MICHAEL JOSEPH;AND OTHERS;REEL/FRAME:021283/0351
Effective date: 19960910
|Jul 25, 2008||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: MEDCOHEALTH SOLUTIONS, INC., NEW JERSEY
Free format text: CHANGE OF NAME;ASSIGNOR:MERCK-MEDCO MANAGED CARE LLC;REEL/FRAME:021295/0496
Effective date: 20020521
|Aug 4, 2008||AS||Assignment|
Owner name: MEDCO HEALTH SOLUTIONS, INC., NEW JERSEY
Free format text: CHANGE OF NAME;ASSIGNOR:MEDCOHEALTH SOLUTIONS, INC.;REEL/FRAME:021335/0974
Effective date: 20020607
|Jan 13, 2009||CC||Certificate of correction|
|Dec 30, 2009||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 12
|Jan 13, 2011||AS||Assignment|
Effective date: 19961204
Owner name: MERCK-MEDCO MANAGED CARE, L.L.C., NEW JERSEY
Free format text: MERGER;ASSIGNOR:MERCK-MEDCO MANAGED CARE, INC.;REEL/FRAME:025630/0341