Automation inevitable, so adapt

robot touching futuristic interface

The pharmacy profession could well fall victim to technology if it does not reinvent itself, says the founder of PharmHack.

Pharmacist Sabrine Elkhodr, who has written for AJP on the subject of disruption, responded to a report on automation in California where pharmacists are being replaced by robots, saying that pharmacies need to prepare for the inevitable.

The Future of You health and technology blog highlighted a medical center in California where seven pharmacy technicians supervised by three or four pharmacists have been replaced by robots and two technicians at most.

The UK is being actively pushed towards an automated “hub and spoke” model.

“Pharmacists and pharmacies are in danger of becoming irrelevant very quickly if they don’t actively seek out opportunities to disrupt their own business models,” says Elkhodr.

“If you’re a pharmacy owner that hasn’t already started to think about ways to innovate and offer value outside of the medication-supply function, then you need to start very quickly to avoid being crushed by the disruptive forces that are going to hit pharmacy very soon.”

“There is a lot of fear around the hub-and-spoke dispensing model that I think is being driven primarily by those who feel it is a direct attack on their primary function: the supply of medications.

The “Amazonisation” of medication supply is inevitable as we move towards an economy that values automation and simplification,” Elkhodr told the AJP.

“The hub-and-spoke model will force us as pharmacists to focus on providing value to patient health by doing what we were actually trained to do: provide health counselling and professional services.

“If your pharmacy provides nothing more than a venue to pick up medications, then automation will hit you hard,” she says.

Many pharmacists are already delegating these tasks to dispensary technicians already.

“These robots are simply automating a task that pharmacists don’t want to do so they can focus on what actually matters: providing quality health advice and counselling to their patients.

“The dispensing process can be divided into two distinct parts: the handling of the medication and the consultation.

“Automating the first part is perfectly appropriate and necessary to allow pharmacists to spend more time and energy on the second part- counselling the patient.

“The point of automation in any industry is to take away mundane, repetitive tasks that humans currently have to complete to give them the time and space to do the work that really matters.”

The pharmacies that will survive a seismic shift in the pharmacy landscape—whether that shift comes from automation or deregulation—will be those who value patient health and actively provide value to their customers through comprehensive medication counselling and professional health services, says Elkhodr.

“There is of course the ever-present fear that as artificial intelligence evolves, most healthcare functions (including doctors) will become obsolete.

“There is an overwhelming sense in the tech world that eventually, the only jobs that will be left for humans will be those requiring abstract thought and the strong ability to empathise and connect with other humans.”

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