Pharmacies are gradually adopting robotics and AI software to help alleviate the burnout and overwork issues faced by pharmacists. Recent pharmacist walkouts have highlighted the need for automation and smarter computer systems to share the back-end workload, allowing pharmacists to focus more on patient care. Some key trends in pharmacy automation include:
- Robotic Dispensing: Walgreens is building a network of “micro-fulfillment centers” with robots that handle prescription orders for delivery to retail stores. These robots can fill the majority of orders for regularly scheduled refills and maintenance-based medications.
- Central Fill: Chains like Walmart, Hy-Vee, and Coborn’s are adopting “central fill” systems that move prescription preparation and packaging offsite, relying heavily on automation.
- “Will Call” Lockers: Pharmacies are deploying “will call” lockers for patients to pick up their prescriptions at any time, increasing convenience and reducing waiting times.
- AI for Medication Management: AI programs help pharmacists monitor medication adherence, manage inventory, predict demand for specific medications, and identify potential drug interactions. Visual AI can assist in pill identification and interaction checks.
- AI for Supply Chain Optimization: AI solutions analyze purchase and supply chain data to forecast demand and optimize supply chains, addressing drug shortages and inventory management.
- Improved Self-Service: Pharmacies are enhancing their websites, automated telephone lines, and texting systems to improve self-service and home delivery options.
Pharmacy chains aim to free up pharmacists’ and technicians’ time for patient care by automating back-end processes, leading to a more efficient and stress-free work environment. Despite some hurdles, including regulations and costs, the retail pharmacy sector is expected to continue adopting automation technologies to stay competitive in an evolving healthcare landscape.
Overall, the integration of robotics and AI is transforming the pharmacy profession by streamlining operations and allowing pharmacists to concentrate more on patient care while ensuring patient safety and quality of service. Automation will likely play a vital role in addressing workforce challenges and enhancing the patient experience in the pharmacy sector.