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Technology advances in pharmacy include innovations that improve medication safety, efficiency, and patient compliance.
When Walmart announced an initiative in March 2017 allowing patients to fill prescriptions via its mobile app and providing express pickup service for medications, the conversation around technology in pharmacies made headline news. The message was clear: Patients have retail expectations when it comes to engaging with pharmacies.
In fact, several recent technology advances in the pharmacy field have been driven by consumer demand for improved pharmacy access, safety, and service.
Endexx Corporation, an inventory management and technology solutions company, will be using its AutoSpense automated inventory and vending technology in retail pharmacies as a way to give patients access to prescription will-call and other retail pharmacy support. The technology, which was approved in March, aims to reduce transaction time for customers, giving pharmacies the ability to serve more patients daily.
“We believe our technology empowers customers and increases efficiency among the retail markets to improve patient care and give them better access to their medical care,” said Todd Davis, CEO of Endexx, in a statement. “The major trend that is shifting in the business of retail pharmacies is on expanding the services offered, and we believe our technology will serve both customers and our retail clients to improve front-end sales and overall revenues and profits.”
Another example: Publix Pharmacy, a retail pharmacy with hundreds of locations in the Southern U.S., and BayCare health system, which includes 14 hospitals in Tampa Bay and central Florida, have joined to use telehealth technology in pharmacies and in hospitals in four Florida counties. BayCare will place branded telehealth sites in Publix locations, and Publix pharmacies in five hospitals. The companies hope to have all locations using the technology by the end of this year. Patients using the telehealth technology will be able to speak to doctors through video conferencing and utilize diagnostic tools, such as blood pressure cuffs and stethoscopes. The doctors participating in video conference can write prescriptions so that patients can pick them up on site.
Pharmacy automation tools, which are robotic devices and other machines that can fill, dispense, and measure medications for vials, bottles, and blister packs, are another important area of technology growth in the pharmacy. The pharmacy automation market is expected to reach $4.1 billion in 2018, according to a study by Transparency Market Research released in September 2016. An effort to cut medication errors resulting in patient death or illness is a top reason why automation is in high demand, the study found.
Boyce“The challenges will drive the future of pharmacy technology,” says Craig Boyce, RPh, pharmacy consultant at ARxIUM, which provides automated compounding, packaging and dispensing; compliance packaging management; inventory control and storage; and work flow solutions for pharmacies. “When it comes to measuring errors and the cost of those errors, it’s like the iceberg model. We’re not able to capture the bulk of them as an industry because it is hidden. Our job as tech companies is to create a business benefit to our customers and value to our patients.”
Robotics, which has been used in other automation industries for decades, has been slower to gain traction in the pharmacy space. “When you look at efficiency, other industries have known and acknowledged for years that humans make mistakes. To rely on visual inspection, you can often miss many errors that cannot be caught by the human eye,” Boyce says.
The company introduced a new version of the RIVA automated IV compounding system in November 2016, a device that prepares syringes and IV bags in a safe and sterile environment. The robotic device checks medications through various stages of the preparation process, including precise labeling, and aims to eliminate errors and make prescription filling more efficient. Though a version of the device has been on the market since 2008 and has filled more than 6.3 million doses globally, the latest version has features that maximize efficiency and increase productivity.
“If a clear liquid is being injected into a clear liquid, there’s no exact way to make sure that the dose can be double checked. Couple that with a high-pressure work environment, and it is harder to ensure every dose is made the same way every time,” Boyce says.
Safety risks to patients include wrong dosage or medication contamination, which can occur in 0.7% to up to 14% of prescriptions, Boyce says. “We have an ingrained belief in healthcare that manual processes are good enough and we don’t take to heart the errors from other organizations. But mistakes do happen,” Boyce says.
Automation in the pharmacy field has yet to see widespread adoption, but Boyce says that as technology companies make devices more user friendly and more valuable to organizations, pharmacy fulfillment could be just as automated as Amazon.
“We are wasting a huge amount of pharmacy resources. With this technology, we can start offloading repetitive tasks, and allow humans to focus on specialty, high-value work,” Boyce says.
Retail Management Solutions (RMS) mobile point of sale (POS) system is another technology that could improve efficiencies and increase the likelihood patients will comply with medication guidance. The mobile POS is a handheld tablet that allows clinicians to process payments, get appropriate signatures and scan prescriptions on the go. Providers can use it to provide patients with necessary medications prior to patient discharge.
Gross“At the time of discharge, our customers are able to fill prescriptions, capture payments and signatures, all on a mobile tablet,” says Mike Gross, vice president of sales and marketing for RMS. “It is much more efficient to deliver prescriptions bedside and that helps to reduce readmission rates for hospitals.”
Assisting patients with medication adherence, especially during hospital discharge and other transitional care, can drastically cut hospital readmissions, according to a 2015 study published by Anthem and the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation. The study found that nearly 30% of new medications in the United States are not filled.
“When a patient is discharged and given medication, traditionally it is on the patient to get the prescription filled. What occurs a lot of times, for several reasons, is patients end up not taking their medication and are back in the hospital,” Gross says.
Donna Marbury is a writer in Columbus, Ohio.