Magazine article Drug Topics

Disposable Pill-Counting Device Eliminates Contamination

Magazine article Drug Topics

Disposable Pill-Counting Device Eliminates Contamination

Article excerpt

A pharmacy technician from Seattle has created a disposable, single-use tray and spatula to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination during pill counting in pharmacies.

"The process is repeated again and again, with pharmacists using the same tray and spatula," said Ming Koh, 58, a former design engineer for Motorola. "For most drugs there is no attempt to prevent possible contamination of the next patient's medication by the medication of the previous patient," he said. "But some patients may be allergic to some medications, and now it is possible for that patient's medication to become contaminated with previous counted drugs. My devices can be used once and discarded."

Koh's concern relates to the residue that can remain on a counting tray as pharmacists move from filling one prescription to the next. The degree to which this is a problem-i.e., how often cross-contamination from counting trays results in medical problems-is unknown, said experts.

It is known that some drugs, especially penicillin, sulfides, and oncology-related agents, can pose a potential cross-contamination health risk, and most pharmacists take steps to address that problem. The threat from penicillin and sulfides is allergic reactions, and for chemotherapy drugs it is toxicity.

Hospitals are especially aware of these risks, said Luci Power, R.Ph., senior pharmacist and manager for parenteral support services at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center. She is an expert on hazardous drug and contamination in pharmacy settings. Her hospital's pharmacies take specific steps to avoid drug contamination. Penicillin-counting trays are kept in a separate bag and cleaned after each use. Chemo drugs also have differentiated trays and are cleaned with bleach.

Other counting trays and spatulas are wiped down after each use, said Power. She said she hopes that is common practice in community pharmacies as well. Whether contamination problems are, in fact, happening in community pharmacies is an open question, she said. "Anyone who opens a pill bottle can see the residue at the bottom. But how big a health problem this poses, we don't really know."

However, Power does not necessarily endorse Koh's device-"I don't want to have to deal with more disposables," she explained. "It's already a big part of the cost of doing business. …

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