Machines can’t replace us: NAPSA

Pharmacy students say the Productivity Commission’s report displays its ignorance on pharmacy

The National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association issued a statement in which it says it supports some of the recommendations made by the Commission, but condemns others.

“NAPSA supports the review’s recommendation of integrating pharmacists in the healthcare team to combat the rising incidence of complex chronic diseases,” it says.

“This shift to an interdisciplinary care model will help minimise the costs associated with medication misadventure, and greater utilises the skills and knowledge pharmacists are equipped with. Pharmacists can greatly contribute as part of a collaborative approach to care, which forms the basis of the Health Care Home model, and it is encouraging that the review identifies this as a next-step approach.

“The notion, however, that the dispensing process should be entirely automated, and pharmacists be replaced ‘by people whose prime skills are social in nature’ displays the Productivity Commission’s ignorance towards the important clinical basis that underpins this process,” NAPSA says.

“Pharmacists, as the experts in medicines, utilise their clinical skills and knowledge throughout the entire dispensing process, of which data input and medication labelling are only a part.“

Technology in pharmacy can have an important role in making the dispensing process more efficient and effective, the students say, but it has its limits.

“The development of machines that select medicines for labelling, or those which create packaged dose administration aids, all contribute to more efficient workflow processes.

“The My Health Record has already been shown, in pharmacies in the Blue Mountains and Northern Queensland, as a verifiable and useful tool for reconciling medication histories and to guide clinical decision making.

“These advancements in technology and digital health add further value to the dispensing process, however cannot possibly replace the interpersonal and clinical skills of a pharmacist.

“With approximately 75% of pharmacy graduates entering community pharmacy annually, substituting robots for these early-career pharmacists, who are developing their abilities and experience, is alarming.”

The review also reinforces the need for a cultural change in the public’s perception towards pharmacy, NAPSA says.

“Referring to the most accessible healthcare destination as a ‘retail’ environment devalues the service community pharmacists provide every day.

“With more Government funding being injected into the provision of healthcare services in community pharmacy, with a focus on medication management, it is evident that the traditional retail and prescription-filling model is no longer viable.

“In line with NAPSA’s submission to the King Review, funding towards pharmacist services delivered outside of 6CPA remuneration, such as consultant work in general practice, or pharmacists in aged care facilities, is needed, and is only partially identified by the Productivity Commission.”


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  1. Philip Smith

    I will admit to not reading the whole productivity report.
    But we will easily be replaced on our basic dispensing function by machines. Which sorry to say is the main income for most pharmacies and is what pays the rent, wages, power etc.

    Without Pharmacist (not pharmacy) getting paid via the MBS for our clinical knowledge, assistance, interventions, time etc we have no future.

    Students are young and have plenty of time to do another course, just don’t get a mortgage and have kids.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      Dispensing isn’t a technical role. While it contains some tasks that are technical in nature, it is a clinical role.

      Any pharmacist who feels that their dispensing role could easily be replaced by a robot should look at how they are performing this role and question their processes.

      I have a robot in my pharmacy that I use to assist me in dispensing, but it is never going to be able complete my role. Even if sophisticated algorithms were invented that looks at the appropriateness of medications in certain patients, they cannot account for errors by the prescriber or the health literacy of the patient. Robotic systems are not able to bring the three parts of the clinical dispensing role (interpretation, judgement, education) together in a way that makes mediation supply safe to the public.

      • Red Pill

        What if it would provide the level of efficiency that allows a pharmacist to dispense 100 scripts per hour. Only flagging for a pharmacist review if it notices a clinical or dose related issue.

        Would that not reduce the number of Pharmacists employed by a business?

        • Jarrod McMaugh

          Not in my practice it wouldn’t

          We use our pharmacists for patient interaction. Our robot saves us time and helps with keeping us available.

          That being said, go on twitter and look at my profile – specifically looking for the hashtag #r2dispense2 – the problem with using robots is that we are a long way from them being able to identify issues that are common place.

          What would a robot do about a 36-year old woman presenting with a statin for the first time…. this would look seemingly OK in many instances, yet I had this occur recently and the woman had her husband with her. A short conversation revealed how inappropriate the medication was, and lifestyle interventions were going to be utilized instead for then next 4-6 years while other life factors were organized. A competent pharmacist should immediately know what the issue was. would a robot? (PS the GP should have known too, but didn’t even raise the issue).

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