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Is the future of pharmacy in automation?


14 Jul 2017

How much time can pharmacists save by making use of technology, ask CEO of Healthera Quintus Liu and Lewis Fiord, pharmacy innovation manager at Healthera

Technology offers huge opportunities for pharmacies, and with ever more sophisticated technologies emerging, let us look at just how automated they need to be today.

Automation in business is commonly defined as using technology to reduce manual labour and increase productivity. But what does a pharmacy actually do that can be automated?

Unlike many high street stores whose sole focus is retail, pharmacy income is a little more complex and is usually drawn from three main sources: prescription dispensing, clinical service provision and retail.

So let’s break it down to see how each of the three could be automated.

This first area – dispensing – is the most labour-intensive among pharmacy activities and therefore should probably be automated the most. Prescription dispensing includes receiving prescriptions, ordering, collecting and sorting through the required medicines then administering the right amounts, in the right forms, to the right patients.

Under the watchful eye of a qualified pharmacist (in order to operate under clinical safety) dispensing robots can carry out the donkey work of sorting through and packaging medicines, and further to that, some modern robots are able to package pills by individual dosages – something that can’t be replicated by humans.

‘Automation in terms of pouches is already quite commonplace in continental European pharmacies and it’s just a matter of time before it becomes so in the UK,’ says Martijn Veltmaat, an executive who serves on the board of Healthera.

In addition to this the process of actually managing prescription requests, particularly for repeat prescriptions, can be even more troublesome. Yet this is an unavoidable task if a pharmacy is to secure steady business.

Without automation, this often involves the pharmacy phoning each patient on monthly medications and chasing GP approval, sometimes from several different sources, including fax, to attempt to stay organised. Luckily, some new software systems can automate this. With dispensing and collecting orders automated, this frees up the pharmacist’s time for other activities – clinical services and retail.

But what could be automated about clinical services? The answer is the booking and record keeping of service delivery. For example, a software platform could allow patients to browse through what’s on offer and book a service at an available and convenient time, allowing the pharmacist to be focused on providing services of the highest quality.

While the services are being delivered, there are also software platforms that can guide and record the whole process, ensuring an audited paper trail and the right claims for commissioners or insurance companies.

Hopefully, with the right investments into hardware and software, some of the dull, repetitive, and administrative pharmacy tasks can be put into the steady hands of technology. Enabling pharmacists to increase their impact in areas such as, clinical oversight, clinical services and strategic balancing of the pharmacies business activities.

What a wonderful sight that would be – when machines pack our medicines, streamline our paperwork, and pharmacists welcome us with the sharpest flu needle as soon as we step into the gleaming shop.


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