Ellen Kachur unrolls a small roll of pills, each encased in a sealed packet at the pharmacy in Humboldt District Hospital. The packet contains the name of the medication, the lot number and the expiry date.

“It’s all about patient safety,” she says. Kachur is Pharmacy Manager at Humboldt District Hospital.

Each patient has a labelled drawer containing his daily dose of medications.

Unit-dose medication has been in use in Canada since the 1970s. In fact, Humboldt, Saskatoon and Montreal were the first three locations to first use unit-dose medications.

“The advantage of unit-dose medication is that it reduces medication errors, waste, nursing time, and inventory holding costs,” she adds. “It increases the amount of time pharmacists and nurses can spend in direct patient care.”

Robert Hogel believes the new system is a much more organized way of dispensing medication to patients in Rosthern Hospital.

Rosthern Hospital recently came online to the unit-dose system. Hospital manager Robert Hogel agrees with Kachur’s assessment about patient safety. “It decreases errors. You know the pill has been given because its gone from the drawer. If it’s still there you can find out why.”

The unit-dose system involves the pharmacists in Humboldt creating a supply of medications for each patient in a rural hospital or health centre. The medication goes into a drawer with the patient’s name on it. The drawer is the sole source of medication for that patient, thereby ensuring that if medication is left over, there is little doubt about who it belongs to.

“This puts more structure in the system,” says Hogel. “All the proper expiry dates are there compared to before when staff refilled bottles and had to change expiry dates by hand. If they added pills to a yet-to-be-emptied bottle, the contents would have had different expiry dates.”

Other benefits to the system include a cost saving in drug orders. With a centralized unit-dose system, medication is ordered as a single unit.

The Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists endorses the unit-dose system as a best practice. All rural hospitals and health centres in Saskatoon Health Region as well as facilities in the city now use this system for distributing medication to patients and residents.