Pharmacy automation is no longer a novelty: Many pharmacies have integrated automation to some degree since the 1960s. But artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning evolved, combined with Lower costs have made automation within reach of smaller pharmacies. Find out why many pharmacies are transitioning to automated service systems; Which systems are still in existence and which are not.
Benefits of automation
Some pharmacies still follow the old way of doing business. But as the benefits of automation became increasingly apparent, even traditionalists began to make the switch. These benefits include:
Faster speed : Even the most experienced pharmacist or technician will be slower than a machine. Automation allows pharmacies to fill more orders faster while freeing up humans to perform essential tasks that cannot be automated, like direct patient contact.
Greater Accuracy : Accuracy is a major concern in the Pharmaceutical industry. Even the most seasoned or careful people can make mistakes. For many drugs, an error in dosage can cause side effects or even kill the patient. Automating the drug measurement process significantly reduces the chance of errors.
Better confidentiality : Humans can make mistakes when contacting patients about their prescriptions or when following security protocols for drugs like opioids. For example, an industry technician may leave too much information in a patient’s voicemail, while automated calling programs will always only verify information programmed by the pharmacy. For controlled drugs, employees may forget to sign off a drug. Locked security cabinets can reduce this by requiring specific dispensing information before allowing access to the medicine cabinet. Automation can eliminate errors like these.
Types of automation
Pharmacies are incorporating some kind of automation into their work, and there’s a lot of history to remember. One of the earliest and best-known examples of pharmacy automation was automated phone calls notifying patients that their prescription was ready to be received.
Other examples include:
- Count pills or capsules or measure liquid drugs
- Manage inventory and reorder medicines when supplies are low
- Contact your doctor for more information or clarification
- Transcription of patient or doctor’s phone messages
- Enter or update a patient’s personal or insurance information
- Identify potentially dangerous drug interactions
A more in-depth look
Exciting new developments in automation have brought down software and machine costs. Devices that were once off-limits to all but the largest pharmacies can now be purchased. Here’s an overview of some of the specific tasks that devices can perform:
Dispensing Drugs : Dispensing drugs is one of the common causes of dangerous errors for pharmacies, and it is a daunting task. Machines like the TCGRx automate the filling of blister packs for patients and the Parata robot can fill vials and bags. Many modern systems allow for greater safety and sterility.
Profile Synchronization : Traditionally, pharmacists had to manually enter drug dispensing information, even if it was automatically dispensed. Records are now often synchronized with centralized databases that manage patient records once a drug has been dispensed, so there are no confusion or additional steps.
Compliance : Industry regulations are ever-changing. Systems like Omnicell check the regulations you are following against the regulations and warn about situations of non-compliance.
Dispensing at home : For many patients, dosing accuracy while self-administering or remembering to take medication on schedule can be a serious concern. Pharmacists can take the necessary steps to educate patients about their medications when they arrive at the pharmacy, but if the patient is uncertain or does not recall the instructions, all that effort is forfeited. Home dispensing machines, like the dispensers created by Spencer Health Solutions, act as home pharmacists, dispensing medications for patients and giving them instructions.
Future frontiers in pharmaceutical automation
Pharmacy automation continues to be developed by leaps and bounds. AI and machine learning provide exciting opportunities for industry change.
Researchers have focused much attention on AI image recognition. Although handwriting recognition has greatly improved in just the last five years, pharmacists still have to double-check prescription scanning systems to see if there are any errors in their transcription. As the software continues to improve, it is likely that the error rate will continue to decrease.
One of the most important frontiers of automation involves patient response to medication. When pharmacists report adverse drug reactions, automated systems may be able to pick up patterns (such as in interactions or contraindications) that humans are not capable of capturing. By harnessing the power of big data, systems can advise pharmacists of potential risks to patients, even if the underlying reason for the advice is unclear.
Finally, one of the biggest concerns pharmacies currently have about automated drug dispensing is the risk of cross-contamination. A machine that handles many different medications needs to be cleaned between each operation. For now, this task falls to the pharmacy staff, although over time devices with a reliable, safe and thorough self-cleaning function will enter the market.
Some pharmacies don’t like automation. Pharmacists or staff may not be willing to learn new systems when the old system has been in operation for too long. They are concerned about the long-term viability of the job.
But pharmacies are quickly learning that they can afford not to automate at least some of the tasks. Automation increases pharmacy efficiency while dramatically reducing error rates. It frees up human intelligence to perform important tasks such as interacting directly with patients, which could hardly be delegated to a machine.
As the costs associated with automation continue to fall, more pharmacies are realizing that they can afford to do automation. As new developments in automation emerge, pharmacies will become more efficient, cleaner and safer.