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Are Robotic “Pharmacists” a Help or a Hindrance?

  • February 26, 2020
  • RPh on the Go

pharmacy robotsNot so long ago, the idea of robots taking over jobs was futuristic and far-fetched. Imagining a Jetsons-like world seemed like something only in cartoons and sci-fi movies. Recently, though, through robotic automation and artificial intelligence, that world in which robots serve us is starting to become more real. Some pharmacies are using robots to aid in the dispensing of medications. This innovative technology can have both positive and negative effects on the pharmacy industry as a whole. Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of pharmacy robots.

Pros of Pharmacy Robots

Better accuracy in filling prescriptions – Human error can be a serious problem in the pharmacy. Incorrect dosages, misidentified medications, and other dispensing errors can be dangerous and sometimes life-threatening issues. Using robots to pick and fill prescriptions virtually eliminates human error, short of those caused by misentered information or misloaded medications.

Faster fill times – The time it takes for a robot to process and pull a prescription is significantly quicker than what it takes a human pharmacist. There is no need for lunch breaks, stopping to answer a question, or taking bathroom breaks. Robots can work 24 hours a day to stay on top of the workload.

Less contamination – When there is no human contact with the medication, the potential for contamination is virtually eliminated. The storage area can be kept entirely sterile, and medication only handled after being reviewed by the lead pharmacist before handing it over to the patient or care provider for dosing.

Cons of Pharmacy Robots

More difficult to catch errors on the first pass – if there is an error made in entry or medication is loaded into the wrong space, the robot will not be able to determine that there is a problem. It is only on review by the pharmacist that dosage or medication errors can be caught.

Malfunctions can cause serious delays – When there is a software failure or mechanical error, things will grind to a halt and it can take time to have someone come in and correct the issue. If there are parts required, this can put a strain on the pharmacy as everything will need to be done manually until the system is up and running again.

Cost prohibitive for smaller pharmacies – Robotic units for pharmacies can be extremely expensive, putting them out of reach for many pharmacies. Until the technology becomes more cost-effective, only larger facilities and hospitals are able to take advantage of using robots for dispensing medications.

Artificial Intelligence in Pharmacy

Adam Beachman, a director of a pharmacy software company called PDX-NHIN, believes that artificial intelligence(AI) will soon be adopted to improved patient health methods for pharmacies and prescribers. While AI doesn’t necessarily translate to the use of robots, it is a futuristic tool that will inevitably be used to assist pharmacy professionals. Ultimately, the main purpose of AI would be to improve a pharmacy’s decision-making abilities and create a more efficient service.

While we are a long way off from robots taking over every facet of life in the pharmacy, it is likely that the integration of this technology will become more and more common as time progresses. Though the industry will likely never be taken over completely, as consultation and counseling are essential parts of the process, technology will continue to develop to make the job of a pharmacist easier and safer for patients.

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