Technology is rapidly altering the workplace in profound ways, and on a global scale. Recent advancements in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics have led to a dramatic increase in the use of sophisticated automation systems across a variety of industries. Machines are now capable of performing many of the same tasks as humans, including those activities requiring the use of advanced cognitive skills. The pharmaceutical industry hasn’t been immune to these changes. According to a recent BCC Research study, the global pharmacy automation market was valued at $3.5 billion in 2015 and will increase to $5.5 billion in 2021.
Advantages of robotic systems: improved safety and increased efficiency
Robots have several advantages over their human counterparts when it comes to some of the more mundane and repetitive tasks traditionally performed by pharmacists. Paramount among these is making sure patients receive the right number of pills in the correct dosages quickly. Robotic dispensing machines can fill a large amount of the daily prescription volumes demanded by current workloads with extreme accuracy – eliminating the risk of human error and vastly improving patient safety.
In hospitals, automated prescription dispensing systems select and package medication, dispensing pills individually. In many cases these are barcoded to ensure the correct patient is matched to the right prescription, safely and efficiently. Robotic dispensers can also incorporate systems that drive workflow and speed up processes that enhance efficiencies, leading to lower costs in one comprehensive pharmacy solution.
The evolving role of today’s pharmacist
What does this mean for the role of the pharmacist? Will they be displaced by an army of robot pill dispensers? The answer is no.
While innovations and advancements in robotic capabilities means that current and future pharmacists will need to adapt, it also presents enormous opportunity. By liberating pharmacists from some of their more repetitive duties, they gain the chance to perform higher-order tasks, such as counseling patients, performing MTM, and engaging in clinical and specialty programs.
For all its advantages, the technology that runs even the most advanced robotic systems still lacks the depth of human understanding and experience necessary to fulfill every nuanced task charged to today’s pharmacist. Artificial intelligence is still no match for the real thing when it comes to comprehending, synthesizing, and communicating information on the level necessary to facilitate human care.
The real value of robotic systems behind the pharmacy counter is in allowing pharmacists to become a more integral part of the care-providing team, a role that will give them more direct and valuable interactions with both patients and doctors, ultimately helping to provide better and more holistic care to the patients they serve.