Select your location:


Select your language:

Wanted: automated dispensing cabinets for accurate drug storage and dispensing

Julian Vogelsanger
03 March 2022
Reading Time: 5 min.
Providing quality patient care is the core responsibility of a caregiver, and ensuring the right drugs are given to the right patient at the right time is of utmost importance to positively impact the patient’s recovery journey. However, do you find yourself feeling uncertain of the dispensed drug, wondering if there was an earlier batch at the back of the cupboard? Or the need to recite A-B-C silently when looking for Omeprazole in the drug cupboard of the new emergency room that you have been assigned to? An automated dispensing cabinet could be the relief that you are looking for and even more…
Dispensing with automated dispensing cabinets

What are automated dispensing cabinets (ADC)?

An ADC is a computer-based system for the storage and dispensing of medication at hospital’s points of care such as wards, emergency rooms, and critical care units. They are mainly used by hospitals that practice decentralized medication management: drugs are centrally managed but physically distributed to various points of care within the hospital.

In this model of medication management, the ADC takes on the role of a decentralized warehouse to store and track drugs securely while enabling nurses to accurately dispense patient-specific or drug-specific medication on demand.

The MedSMART automated dispensing cabinets are a combination of a main tower and an auxiliary tower. The main tower features an integrated touchscreen where caregivers use to log into the system to replenish or dispense medications. The auxiliary tower provides additional shelf or drawer storage for the medication at the point of care. Flexible configurations of an ADC enable secure storage and dispensing of different types of drug forms such as:

  • single doses,
  • multi doses,
  • blister strips,
  • boxed medication,
  • bottled medication,
  • vials, and
  • ampoules.
Drug forms that can be stored in automated dispensing cabinets
ADCs can store different types of medication.

Accurate dispensing with automated dispensing machines

During daily scheduled drug administration timings, nurses log into the ADC. They are granted access to the system to select the patient for whom medication is to be dispensed. The system lists the prescription specific to this selected patient and the nurse selects the drugs to be dispensed, which automates the process of dispensing medications sequentially.

Visual guiding lights illuminate the doors, drawers, and exact compartments within the drawers where the selected medications are stored. This directs the nurse to the right drawer to pick and dispense the right drug. On top, there is on-screen guidance to show where the exact drug is stored. Once all prescribed drugs specific for that administration timing are dispensed from the ADC, nurses have the option to print out a prescription list that aids them during their administration process.

The automated dispensing machines can be programmed to support both patient-specific and drug-specific dispensing modes, catering to emergency responses, especially within the emergency rooms and critical care wards. The drug-specific dispensing process is the same as the patient-specific dispensing process except for the initial patient selection. During an emergency, caregivers will be able to access all drugs stored within the ADC. Simply by searching the drug name and selecting the drug to be dispensed, the automated dispensing process starts.

Workflow with ADCs

Handling narcotics, controlled substances, and high-alert drugs

Narcotics, controlled substances, high-alert, and sometimes expensive drugs are stored exclusively in the sliding drawers of the MedSMART ADC, which are secure drawers with double-lock access. With ADC credentials and the access locks of both the drawer and the drug’s storage compartment, this physical hardware complies with JCI requirements of implementing a process for reducing the risk and harm of high-alert medications.

For an additional layer of security when storing and dispensing narcotics, hospitals have the option to implement the two-man rule to securely dispense controlled drugs only after verification by a second authorized user of the system.

So, when nurse A logs in the ADC to retrieve a narcotic, the system will prompt another authorized caregiver B to log into the system as a second set of verification before the system unlocks the drawer and storage location of the narcotic for nurse A to retrieve the drug.

Handling drug returns

Whether a drug will be returned to the cabinet stock or the return bin will be set up during the medication definition stage. A drug that is defined as going to the return bin will be sent back to the pharmacy so it can be redistributed to other wards in need of this drug. MedSMART ADC can manage both types of returns within its footprint.

Steps of returning drugs to the cabinet stock or return bin:

  1. After logging into the ADC, the nurse selects the patient whose drugs were un-administered and clicks on the return button.
  2. The screen will list previously dispensed medication for this specific patient and the nurse selects the drug to be returned as well as its returned quantity.
  3. Select the return button again to confirm the returned drug and quantity. The return bin or the correct drawer will be unlocked (sequentially if returning more than one drug).
  4. There will be on-screen and visual guiding lights to direct the nurse to where to return the drug.


Benefits at a glance

Automated dispensing machines digitize the process of medication handling at the hospital’s points of care. An ADC is an intuitive system that enables secure drug storage, supports accurate dispensing, and empowers drug traceability at various points of care within a hospital. This results in:

  • Increased operational efficiency for both the nursing and pharmacy staff
  • Improved medication management practices to increase patient safety
  • Improved drug inventory to reduce medication waste and loss.


Choosing the right automated dispensing cabinet

Automated dispensing machines can be as simple or sophisticated as needed, depending on several factors such as number of line items to be stored, size of all drugs to be stored onsite, quantity to be stored, replenishment schedule, and the list goes on.  To simplify the process of selecting an ADC that fits your needs, let’s evaluate the basics:

  1. Where would you like to place the ADC?
  2. How many line items do you need to be stored at that point of care?
  3. Do you need secure storage (double-lock access) for narcotics and controlled substances?
  4. Assuming a 5-day replenishment cycle, an ADC can store ~50 liters of liquid medication, do you need more?


Take the first step with our ADC Configurator to find out what would be a suitable combination based on these four simple questions and to receive a first price indication. If you prefer to speak with someone about your specific needs, book an appointment with your local expert and we can customize a system that meets your needs.

About the author

Julian Vogelsanger works in our Product Management department. He knows our MedSMART automated dispensing cabinet like the back of his hand. He uses his experience with MedSMART and the rest of our products to develop clever workflows for the needs of our customers.

More about Julian Vogelsanger
Search more tags
Pharmacy AutomationPurple JourneyTransport AutomationServiceFuture PharmaciesClosed Loop Medication ManagementIntralogisticsModernizationPharmacists InsightsHospital PharmacyApplication TipsUnit DoseDigitizationInterviewPoint of CarePneumatic Tube SystemPatient SafetyHREmployee ExperiencePurple CultureInnovationsNew WorkHospital PlanningOpen Pharmacy