Technology abounds throughout pharmacy and health care systems. When one thinks of automated dispensing technology, the hospital setting comes quickly to mind. Automated dispensing is increasingly common in community pharmacy settings, even if sometimes it takes a different look than it does in hospital, specialty, Veterans Administration (VA), and other settings. In community pharmacy, some of the larger chains are utilizing central filling stations/units particularly for refills and using this to mail patient medications and/or provide timely and completed refill packages to some of their stores.
Spinks et al discuss the potential for even further disruptive innovation in community pharmacy.1 The authors discuss benefits of automated dispensing such as efficiencies in workflow, improved stock control, and reductions in errors. They state that more pervasive implementation in community pharmacy could result in a “technology shock” delivering industry-wide efficiencies, improving medication access, and lowering costs to patients and funding agencies. This would accelerate obsolescence of traditional pharmacist roles and the need to create new ones. This highlights the need for a greater understanding of the workforce along with more accurate forecasting for the supply and demand for pharmacist services, which traditionally assumed both to be relatively static only with the growth of pharmacy schools and the aging of the population. The authors ask if centralized automated dispensing was widely implemented, what might consumer interaction with community pharmacists’ services look like and how might they differ from existing interactions? What services would be offered and how would they be remunerated? Answering these requires separating the mechanical process of dispensing from the pharmacist’s role of promoting quality use of medicines (QUM). Pharmacists are ideally placed to continue their role in QUM, but the shipping of drugs directly to patients, while perhaps reducing mechanical errors, could compromise safety in other ways. This underscores the need for pharmacy to embrace distance technology and use of phone- video conference-driven services.
The future of pharmacy, particularly the mechanical component of dispensing, will undoubtedly change. Pharmacy leaders and managers with foresight will leverage these changes for more patient-driven services and alternative remuneration models seizing upon new technologies that pervade the system.
Additional information about Managing Medication Use Process Supporting Technologies and Automation can be found in Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 4e. If you or your institution subscribes to AccessPharmacy, use or create your MyAccess Profile to sign-in to Pharmacy Management: Essentials for All Practice Settings, 4e. If your institution does not provide access, ask your medical librarian about subscribing.
1Spinks J, Jackson J, Kirkpatrick CM, Wheeler AJ. Disruptive innovation in community pharmacy: Impact of automation on the pharmacist workforce. Res Social Adm Pharm. 2017:13:294-297.