The device vaguely resembles a high-tech vending machine, though the robotic arm and syringes behind its display glass are clear giveaways that it doesn’t dispense soft drinks.
Most commonly, it’s actually producing mixed pharmaceuticals and intravenous solutions like magnesium sulfate, a drug used for hospital patients needing to replenish their electrolytes or those needing an anti-convulsant.
Here at LeeSar, a Fort Myers-based medical supplier that Lee Memorial Health System partially owns, devices like this produce about 600 such mixed, or “compounded” IV solutions and injectables a day for patients at seven Florida hospitals. And, given drug shortages and recent deadly contamination scandals at drug mixing facilities elsewhere, business here is expected to grow.
“We can’t keep up with the demand,” said Bob Simpson, LeeSar’s CEO.
Compounded drugs are those not mass produced or those tailored to specific needs of patients — commonly they are nutritional supplements for newborns or specially diluted medications for patients with unique sensitivities. Some are compounded products nonsterile, such as certain topical ointments. While others must be mixed in special, environmentally controlled clean rooms.
Lack of quality control can lead to serious problems.
Contaminated batches of injectible steroids prepared at the Massachussetts-based New England Compounding Center were linked to about 700 cases of fungal infections, including meningitis, in 20 states. More than 50 associated deaths were reported, including five in Florida.
The incident, and smaller ones like it, have prompted changes to this state’s drug-mixing inspections and have driven a dramatic change in the way Lee Memorial Health System’s pharmacists, and those at many other U.S. hospitals, do business.
Instead of outsourcing all this drug mixing, health systems are opting more and more to just do it themselves. A report in April by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 56 percent of sampled U.S. hospitals are planning to change pharmacy practices and drug purchasing as a result of the NECC scandal.