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Early-stage experiences of the implementation of a large-scale robotic storage and distribution system in a hospital pharmacy service within a large UK health authority
  1. Robert Van Der Meer1,
  2. Marion Bennie2,
  3. Emma Dunlop Corcoran2,
  4. Norman Lannigan3
  1. 1Department of Management Science, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK
  2. 2Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Science, Glasgow, UK
  3. 3Pharmacy and Prescribing Support Unit, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Glasgow, UK
  1. Correspondence to Emma Dunlop Corcoran, John Arbuthnott Building, Robertson Trust Wing, Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Science, 27 Taylor Street, Glasgow G4 0NR, UK;{at}


Objective New technological advancements are often a driver for change in the redesign of services. More research is needed to better understand the impact of sociotechnical dimensions on the implementation of new technological systems in a hospital pharmacy. This paper aims to analyse the early-stage experiences (first 6 months) arising from the large-scale automation of medicines distribution, as part of a redesign programme of hospital pharmacy services within a large UK health authority.

Methods Thirty-six pharmacy staff from four hospital sites (700–900 inpatient beds per site) were interviewed over 11 visits between May and September 2010. Interviews were complemented by extensive documentary data on the redesign programme. Data analysis included inductive coding followed by thematic analysis. Research findings were fed into the monthly project board meetings, to inform the decision-making process throughout the automation project.

Results Six key themes were identified. The technical dimensions involved issues associated with the robotic storage and distribution system, the pharmacy management system, and sourcing medicines unavailable from the pharmacy distribution centre. The social/human dimensions related to understanding staff roles within the new system, the importance of effective communication, and the effect of the redesign on staff morale.

Conclusions The introduction of new technology may lead to unintended first-order consequences, such as initial staff resistance, and can also generate potentially serious adverse feedback loops between the social and technical dimensions of the new system. Nevertheless, if such early-stage problems can be effectively overcome, significant benefits are achievable.

  • robotics
  • hospital pharmacy
  • socio-technical systems
  • organisational change
  • health technology

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