Pharmacy Automation: A Revolution in Medication Delivery


Pharmacies across the world are undergoing a technological revolution with the widespread adoption of automation systems. From automated pill counters and storage systems to complex robotic systems, pharmacy automation is streamlining workflows and improving safety and efficiency. In this article, we explore some of the key aspects of pharmacy automation and how it is changing the way pharmacies operate.

Current State of Pharmacy Operations
Traditional pharmacies rely heavily on manual processes from order entry to pill counting to inventory management. Pharmacists and technicians spend much of their time verifying scripts, counting pills and filling orders. This manual process is labor intensive, prone to errors and limits pharmacy throughput. Most pharmacies still operate with legacy software systems that do not facilitate integration with other systems. This leads to redundancies, inconsistencies in data and delays in filling prescriptions.

The current pharmacy workflow involves a pharmacist or technician manually pulling the requested drug from storage shelves, counting out the number of pills and verifying the prescription before packaging and labeling. Any errors or clarifications require reworking the prescription from the start. Manual interventions are also needed for inventory checks, recalls and expiration tracking. This outdated model is not sustainable in the face of increasing workloads, customer expectations of quick service and stringent regulations.

Rise of Pharmacy Automation Systems
Over the past decade, pharmacy automation systems have evolved rapidly to address the pain points in traditional pharmacy workflows. Automated pill counters, robotic dispensers and carousels have been incorporated into pharmacies of all sizes. Advanced pharmacy management software now enables seamless integration between these devices facilitating end to end automation.

Automated pill counters use precision scales and cameras to quickly and accurately count requested numbers of pills into vials. Multiple prescriptions can be counted simultaneously, significantly boosting productivity. Robotic arms then pick filled vials and sort them for packaging. Automated dispensing cabinets tightly control drug inventory and allow technicians to remotely pull doses eliminating human errors in selecting drugs. Pharmacists can focus on clinical aspects and verifying automated fills.

Robotic carts and conveyor belts transport prescriptions between devices bypassing manual transport steps. Integration with pharmacy management software automatically routes information like patient details, prescriptions, medication and billing to the appropriate automated system or human intervention point. Automated storage cabinets help track inventory, expiration dates and available stock levels without manual counts.

Impact on Workflow Efficiency and Patient Care
Pharmacies incorporating various levels of automation are seeing tremendous improvements across key metrics like increased throughput, reduced error rates and improved inventory management. Automated systems allow pharmacies to fill a higher volume of prescriptions with fewer staff which also improves turnaround times.

Public health officials and researchers have found automated pharmacies experience 50-90% reduced dispensing errors compared to manual workflows. Automated checks minimize selecting incorrect drugs or incorrect doses. Robotic dispensers eliminate handwriting interpretation errors. Automated bins also help find expired stock proactively avoiding administration of unsafe medications.

These operational efficiencies allow pharmacists to devote more time to direct patient care activities. Pharmacists are freed from repetitive tasks to focus on medication therapy management, answering patient questions, managing chronic conditions and participating in collaborative care programs. Automation facilitates higher touch patient care services that lead to better health outcomes.

Benefits of Pharmacy Automation and Adoption Trends
The measurable benefits of automation systems in terms of enhanced safety, improved productivity and expanded patient care services are driving widespread adoption. According to industry experts, nearly 75% of large retail pharmacies now utilize some level of automation systems. Hospital pharmacies are also increasing their use of automation to manage high volumes, complex needs and strict regulations in inpatient care.

Automation lowers long term operational costs through reduced error rates and staffing needs. Initial equipment investments start paying off through higher throughput and reimbursements from billable patient care services. Automated systems also enhance job satisfaction for staff by reducing mundane manual tasks. The new generation of “Cubeworkers”, pharmacy technicians who primarily work with automated systems, cite greater efficiency and control over workflows as career advantages.

While upfront automation costs, technology complexity and need for space can be barriers for smaller pharmacies, many options now exist across various price points. Cloud-based software, shared services/cooperatives and leasing options are helping independent pharmacies adopt appropriate levels of automation. The current pandemic highlighted the strategic importance of automation which allowed many pharmacies to maintain critical medication delivery despite staffing challenges. Overall pharmacy automation clearly presents a viable pathway for the future of pharmacy practice.

In conclusion, pharmacy automation systems have revolutionized pharmacy operations and workflows over the past decade. From automated pill counters to complex robotic systems, these technologies streamline processes improving safety, efficiency, customer service and expanding the clinical role of pharmacists. Both large retailers and independent pharmacies are adopting automation to gain competitive advantages in a changing healthcare landscape. While initial investments are substantial, the tangible benefits help recoup costs and strengthen long term viability. Automation ensures pharmacies continue playing their vital role in effective medication management now and in the coming years.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it