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Implementation of Pharmacy Automation

Written by Peter Barron

Peter Barron has served as a change agent in the professional practice of pharmacy in New Zealand. While he is a strong advocate of patient care and advancement of pharmacy practice, Peter is also a pioneer and innovator, introducing new models of pharmacy practice into New Zealand by opening a chain of pharmacies. He shared these thoughts about the implementation of automation into his pharmacies:

What problems does pharmacy automation solve for you?
Automation allows for greater productivity in the pharmacy—there are no sick days, no vacations, and the robot never arrives late for work. In addition to productivity, it improves safety for both the pharmacy staff and the patients. The most important benefit automation has offered is that it has allowed a role change; the pharmacist can now focus on counseling the patient rather than dispensing medications.

Do any of your staff members see automation as a threat? How did you address their concerns?
Automation may be a threat to some pharmacists, but for others it’s an opportunity to provide pharmaceutical care. Some pharmacists refuse to change, so I’m going to take the dispensing component away from them and physically move them into the pharmacy. Some pharmacists might not like the change and leave. This is unfortunate because I don’t want to lose employees but they do need to move to another place where they are going to feel more comfortable. On the other hand, this opportunity will attract new people that will embrace what they were trained to do as a pharmaceutical care provider.

As automation frees up a pharmacists time, what new initiatives are you planning on implementing to take advantage of the time you have freed up?
Today, reimbursement rates are very minimal. As much as we would like to change these rates, it is unlikely, so the new free time created by automation should be utilized to find new sources of income. We need to initiate interactions between customers and pharmacists to solve patients’ problems. These interactions have the potential for reimbursement via increased sales of merchandise or as a fee- based consultation service.

What issues do you see wrong with the innovation of American pharmacies?
Why put in a drive-thru with reimbursement rates at 50 cents per prescription? A pharmacy needs to dispense 400 prescriptions to be reimbursed $200 via the drive thru. If we can’t get paid more for a prescription, we need to find other sources of income and clip that ticket. Maybe a valet system should be created. It would allow the person to come into your store and browse around. A person might end up purchasing $200 in merchandise with a 30% margin.

In closing, what final comments do you have for us?
A pharmacist should treat both the inner and outer person, and this should become easier with the time freed up by automation. A pharmacist’s job is not just to dispense medications, but to try to empower people by ensuring that they are aware of all the options available to them. Pharmacists should help patients understand the pros and the cons of those options and guide them to choices that will provide them the best outcome.