When pharmaceuticals are flushed down the drain or thrown in the bin, their residues end up in nature and water systems, such as the Baltic Sea. Every year, Finnish households produce a vast amount of medical waste consisting of medicines that have expired or are no longer needed. These should be disposed of correctly, by returning them to a pharmacy.
Elderly people in particular tend to accumulate a large amount of unused and expired medicines. For instance, in the case of medicine that the person can’t take due to side effects, 90 tablets of a packet of 98 might be left unused.
In addition, there are often problems with the correct storage of medication. For example, many people store medicine in the refrigerator even though it should be kept at room temperature, or they keep them on a windowsill, exposed to sunlight. Others have their medicine cabinet in the bathroom, which is too humid for this purpose.
The disposal of unnecessary and expired medicine is often left to the home care service or the elderly person’s friends or relatives. Pharmaceuticals must not be disposed of in mixed waste or flushed down the toilet. They must be returned to the pharmacy.
Unit-dose dispensing significantly reduces medical waste
It is important as part of medical treatment to ensure the person takes their medication in accordance with the physician’s instructions. Elderly persons living at home are likely to get their medication from a pill dispenser, dosed by a home-care worker or their spouse, child or other person close to them.
Manual dispensing of medication always involves the possibility of human error. The pill dispenser may not close properly, or the medicines can spill out, for example if the dispenser falls on the floor. This can result in the days and medication times getting mixed up. The tablets can then be difficult to identify, making it almost impossible to put back in their right place in the dispenser.
As automated unit-dose dispensing becomes more common, medication safety is improved and healthcare personnel have more time to spend with the people they are caring for and focus on actual care work. This also significantly reduces wastage of medicines. It has been estimated that automated unit-dose dispensing produces almost only half the amount of the medical waste produced by conventional dispensing.
Nowadays, more and more pharmacies offer automated unit-dose dispensing, and many care homes and residential care facilities have already been using it for a long time. In unit-dose dispensing, the pharmacy regularly provides the required medicine in single-dose packets that clearly indicate the date and time for taking the medicine, among other things.
Unit-dose dispensing reduces the risk of the medicine expiring, as it is provided for shorter periods, usually for two or four weeks at a time. This also significantly reduces the amount of wasted medicines than in cases where the person’s medication is prescribed for a longer period, for example for three months at a time.
Medicine-dispensing robots make taking medication safer
Tamro wants to make it safer for senior citizens living at home to dispense and take their medicines. We are supported in this by the Smila care service, which uses automated unit-dose dispensing. So far, the service has been piloted in home care in six municipalities. In addition to reducing medical waste, the Smila care service ensures that medication is taken at the right time and in the right doses. A robot with a human voice reminds the person to take their medication. If they don’t, the device informs the healthcare personnel of this immediately.
Smila is suitable for everyone who is on regular medication and who needs to be reminded to take it. It assists customers in their own homes. According to our estimates, about 30 to 40 per cent of all Finnish home-care customers could use a medicine-dispensing robot. Similar robots are also used in other Nordic countries, and perhaps in some others too.
Minimising medical waste is environmentally friendly and reduces costs to society and patients alike. We can contribute to this with our choices: by buying medicine only when we need it and disposing of unnecessary or expired medication appropriately. Let’s also help our elderly loved ones to reduce the unnecessary strain on the environment and water systems.
Senior Sales Manager, Health Technology Services