The last year and a half brought about an incredible opportunity for pharmacies to demonstrate their immense value as accessible and reliable care providers. Concurrently, the average American now takes four daily prescription medications (not including OTC), and this growing utilization combined with the pandemic has resulted in heightened demand on pharmacy staff. Increased wait times, reduction of inventory, supply chain complications and the increased potential for errors to occur has a simple solution — pharmacy automation.
The thought of this tech in the pharmacy likely sends mixed emotions throughout the industry. For some, it could be part of the business plan from the beginning. Others may see it as an option for retail giants or hospitals. Yet, no matter the perception of automation, the benefits are undeniably overwhelming. The question for some may be, “Will automation even impact my pharmacy?” I believe the question that should be asked is, “Can I afford not to automate my pharmacy operations?”
When an increase in demand begins at a pharmacy, the initial thought may be to add staff. For most pharmacies, it’s just not that simple. Most states regulate pharmacist to technician ratios, meaning pharmacists are limited to how many technicians can assist them in the preparation of prescriptions. In order to add staff, the first staff member would probably resort to adding a pharmacist versus a technician, since they would otherwise be over ratio. The introduction of automation would circumvent this challenge and allow for growth while freeing up budget for increased technician wages and reducing the need to work in close quarters.
Achieving the optimal intersection of speed and competency in pharmacy operations can make or break day-to-day workflow. With phones ringing, patients waiting and lines wrapped around the store, getting customers in and out as fast and efficiently as possible is the goal. Automation technology can rapidly dispense and fill prescriptions in the background, which allows staff members to provide valuable in-person time to customers. Robots cannot greet with a smile or consult with customers. Allowing automation to complete tedious tasks more quickly and with more accuracy puts much-needed humanity back in pharmacy.
Inventory management is a key factor in pharmacy success. Drug purchases are by far the largest expense of any pharmacy. Having the ability to control inventory on a macro level would yield tremendous dividends for local decision makers. Pharmacy automation allows for inventory control and predictability. This is the result of built-in tracking technology inside most robots. The ability to run reports from a range of past dispenses and track trends helps pharmacies recognize dead stock and create a more cost-effective supply chain.
In pharmacy, while the reality may be tough to digest — mistakes do happen. There are many factors that go into when and why an error can occur in dispensing. Staff fatigue, distractions and stress are just a few of the litany of causes. The addition of pharmacy automation reduces these risks significantly. The act of pulling the right medication, counting the right number of doses and labeling the product can all be eliminated from human responsibility. Robots can produce repetitively and accurately. Most pharmacy automation comes with cameras for post-dispensing verification. These types of features add to the confidence in assuring that the right drug is going to the right place.
Pharmacy automation should be viewed as the benefit that it is. As with all robotics, care is needed for them to be as impactful as possible. If you haven’t already, now is the time to start thinking about taking the work out of your workflows and start procuring the benefits that allow pharmacists and technicians to be providers instead of assembly line workers. Doing so is the best outcome for staff and customers alike.