Tracking multiple pills made easy

A new automated medicine-packing system launched by the National Healthcare Group (NHG) aims to make it more convenient for elderly patients who take multiple pills to keep track of their scheduled doses.

Named ConviDose, the system was introduced during a pilot programme in May 2010.

It can pack medicine at least 14 times faster than when done manually. A machine packs the pills into sachets, according to the required quantity and times that the pills have to be consumed.

Currently, some 3,000 patients in 14 nursing homes and four long-stay wards at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) benefit from the service. Two weeks' worth of medication is usually dispensed to nursing-home residents.

The Salvation Army's Peacehaven Nursing Home in Upper Changi Road started using the service early last year.

In the past, it would take 28 man hours to manually pack one day's worth of medication for the home's 401 residents.

Now, the medicine is packed by machine at IMH and then delivered to the home.

NHG aims to extend the service to its nine polyclinics. It launched a six-month pilot trial at the Toa Payoh Polyclinic in March, and hopes to recruit 20 patients who consume five or more different pills to take part.

This was announced during an event held at the IMH yesterday by NHG's pharmacy executive director, Ms Chan Soo Chung.

She gave an example of the challenges faced by caregivers and patients when it comes to managing multiple pills, citing an incident a decade ago where a domestic helper thought of an "ingenious" way to ensure that her elderly employer took her medicine.

The helper would crush the entire day's quantity of pills, mix them and then divide the powder into three doses, said Ms Chan.

"Please don't try this at home, because by doing so, some types of medicine would lose their therapeutic effects due to the wrong dose being given at the wrong interval," she explained.

But not all health institutions are keen on adopting ConviDose. Those under the SingHealth Group, such as the Singapore General Hospital, currently pack different types of pills separately.

A SingHealth spokesman said: "Although pre-packing drugs into individual sachets by dosage time offers convenience, it can result in waste when doses are changed or a particular drug has to be omitted due to adverse effects."

He said: "For patient safety, the entire lot has to be discarded as it is not possible to re-pack to remove a drug, add a new drug, or change the dose or frequency."

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