Pharmacy automation is a controversial topic. On one side, it allows for a more efficient workflow, reduces dispensing errors, and enables the pharmacy team to focus on other tasks, like providing clinical services to patients. On the other side, even bringing up the idea of automation can conjure visions of human workers being replaced by robots and eliminating jobs in an already fragile workplace ecosystem.
With the advancement of technology, however, pharmacy automation is the way of the future. But just how far can automation go? In a fully automated, autonomous pharmacy, how will the roles of pharmacists and pharmacy staff change, and how will patients be impacted? Let’s take a look.
The Future Is Already Here
Envision a world where prescriptions are delivered by robotic arms and medications are dispensed and packaged by machines. It isn’t a world with moon colonies or flying cars (yet); it’s our world today. Sorting and dispensing machines are already in many pharmacies; after all, some degree of pharmacy automation has been around since the 1960s. And the fully autonomous pharmacy is just around the corner. But it is something to celebrate, or something to fear?
With the possibilities automation offers, pharmacies become a safer, more engaging, and more accessible healthcare destination.
The Pharmacist’s Role in an Automated Pharmacy
Automating prescription dispensing would eliminate the need for pharmacy staff to interact with the medications, reducing the likelihood of errors and increasing efficiency behind the counter. With this level of automation, pharmacists could focus more on patient education and providing clinical services like immunizations and medication therapy management (MTM). After all, a pharmacist’s expertise goes far beyond putting the proper number of pills into a bottle.
While the pharmacy team would be responsible for managing and maintaining the automated machines — including tasks like refilling drug inventory and ensuring the machines are functioning properly — the amount of time they would save by automating dispensing would more than make up for the added responsibilities. An automated system would require additional training for the staff, however.
How Patients Benefit from Pharmacy Automation
For patients, the benefits of a fully automated pharmacy would be immediate. With technology completely handling the distribution and packaging of medications, there would be less room for human error. Medication errors, while infrequent, result in the deaths of 7,000 to 9,000 people in the U.S. every year, as well as hundreds of thousands of adverse reactions and other complications. If steps can be taken to reduce and prevent medication errors, they should be.
Some patients may feel uneasy with the idea of relying completely on technology for something as important as their daily medications. They may prefer the human touch and interaction they receive with pharmacists and other staff members. And that’s understandable. Luckily, automating the dispensing process doesn’t entirely remove the human element of pharmacy. The pharmacist will still be available for consultations and anything else the patient needs. If anything, pharmacy staff will be even more accessible and available than they were before.
Embracing the Future of Pharmacy
It is safe to say that the future of pharmacy is heading towards full automation, with robotic hands and moving machines becoming more prevalent in the industry. For pharmacists, this means adapting to new roles with an emphasis on managing automation and clinical services. For pharmacy staff, this means learning new skills and taking on different responsibilities. And for patients, it means increased efficiency, speed, accuracy, and a reliance on technology for medication distribution. However, we must ensure that the human touch and compassion that comes with traditional pharmacy is not lost and that we are giving people the care they deserve while adapting to a digital age.