Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why is There a COW in my Hospital Room?!

You read the title correctly, and it's true that in the unfortunate event that you have to stay in a hospital room you may have a COW in there with you. Now, I know what you're thinking, "how can this be sanitary? Or how will I be able to sleep with a cow mooing all the time?" Well rest assured that there will not be an actual living, breathing, cud chewing cow in your room.  The acronym COW stands for Computer On Wheels, and it's an essential component of the hospital's technology system for inputting information into the electronic medical record for a patient.

This is what a COW looks like.
The image can be found here. 
Last summer I was able to do one of my pharmacy school rotations at a hospital that utilized COWs. I observed how convenient it was for the nurse to have direct access to a patient's medical record right in the room, instead of having to go to a workstation outside the patient's room. This allowed the nurses, physicians and pharmacists to be more efficient when conducting different aspects of a patient's care.

The COW also comes into play when dispensing medication from the pharmacy. Each time a medication is administered to a patient the nurse uses his or her log in, then a series of barcodes are used to make sure the right patient is getting the right drug at the right time. The COW has a scanner and when each patient is admitted to the hospital he or she receives an individualized barcode. The medication also has a barcode or a QR code on it.  The nurse scans his or her personal barcode so there is a record of who administered the medication, then the nurse scans the patient's barcode, then scans the code on the medication. If all of these match, then the medication can be administered. If they don't match, then there has been an error at some point and the medication is not given until this error is resolved.

This picture shows the individually packaged medications hanging
in the dispensing robot. The arrows are pointing to the QR codes that
get scanned before the medication is given to the patient to ensure
it is the correct medication for that specific patient.
You may be thinking, "wow, that's a lot of checks to go through for medication to be administered." You would be correct in thinking this. There are several checks that must be done before a patient can be given a medication.  Take comfort in knowing that the pharmacists, nurses, doctors, and even COWs are playing a role in protecting patients from medication errors.

1 comment:

  1. I learn something everyday - pretty sure I'd give the nurse or doctor a 'wtf' look if I ever heard them say, "Get that COW in here"


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