Leveraging robotics to increase pharmacists’ time for clinical services
Picture this: A patient who has been newly diagnosed with diabetes visits a community pharmacy. The pharmacist provides counseling on monitoring glucose levels and how to manage out-of-range levels, and develops a plan for the patient if sugar levels go too low. The pharmacist also recommends an appropriate diet and exercise routine to complement medication management.
This scenario and similar situations, in which pharmacists help patients manage their chronic disease, is being played out in pharmacies nationwide. But how can pharmacists perform vital clinical services, and provide COVID-19 testing, immunizations and point-of-care testing, while meeting the requirement to fill a high volume of prescriptions?
Enter pharmacy technology and automation companies, which are amplifying their products and services.
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Many technology companies are offering products that help pharmacies more efficiently handle a higher volume of prescriptions, which has become even more challenging as COVID-19 ebbs and flows. Crocus Medical, based in Minneapolis, is a case in point.
John Webster, Crocus Medical vice president of innovation and product development, said the company’s range of pill counters, including countertop and larger stand-alone robots, can help pharmacies and pharmacists deal with higher dispensing demands as they grow their businesses, and also maintain their volumes if faced with staff shortages.
For pharmacies involved in long-term care or assisted living, Crocus Medical’s multidose cellophane packaging machines and blister-filling robots can help package high-volume clients’ medications quickly and accurately. Moreover, the company’s inventory software management informs pharmacists about products that are running low, those that are in excess and “how they can better utilize these high-cost items without hours of human oversight,” Webster said.
Lastly, Crocus Medical’s Self-Collect Rx lockers, which enable patients to “click and collect” their refills at their pharmacy, enable pharmacies to compete against mail order dispensaries that offer contactless delivery.
iA, based in Indianapolis, is on a mission to reduce pharmacists’ heavy workload by streamlining the prescription-filling process through off-site automation, giving time back to pharmacists as they seek to focus on clinical work.
Alecia Lashier, chief automation officer at iA, pointed out that clinical services can result in new revenue sources. “It’s a win-win for the pharmacist and pharmacy,” she said, while noting that automating the work of low-reimbursement tasks to increase overall quality of care and efficiency “trickles down to patient satisfaction.”
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“Human error during repetitive tasks, such as manually filling prescriptions, is inevitable, but by automating the prescription-filling process, we can leverage robotics for tasks that are prone to human error,” she said. “As our solutions become more intelligent, we can expand tracking updates for both pharmacists and patients, creating more ease, convenience and flexibility.”
Centralizing inventory also helps pharmacies mitigate holding costs. “Additionally, enterprise remote verification and analytics aid in the optimization for each patient’s prescription fulfillment,” Lashier said.
EnlivenHealth, the Raleigh, N.C.-based division of Omnicell, also is a leader in providing automation that frees up pharmacists to pursue clinical opportunities.
“This expanding capability requires real-time data reporting and patient data record access, which is the core of STChealth’s business. Our goal is to ensure every pharmacist and pharmacy technician has the information they need to engage their patients as they provide clinical services and comply with requests for information,” he said.
STChealth’s vaccine intelligence allows pharmacies to identify populations at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases in the region they serve and provide specific recommendations to individual patients based on their immunization history.
“Integrating STChealth vaccine intelligence with a pharmacy management system creates opportunities in point-of-care testing for early warning disease detection and public health reporting,” Popovich said.
Lastly, as pharmacists expand their clinical roles beyond vaccinations, automated drug pricing and patient-engagement solutions become even more critical.
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Dallas-based OmniSYS is offering solutions in each of these areas.
“At OmniSYS, empowering pharmacists to practice at the top of their license is the core of what we do through data, workflow and interoperability solutions,” said David Pope, executive vice president of innovation and industry solutions at OmniSYS.
“Pharmacy retailers are using OmniSYS’ billing-enabled EHR, intelligent patient-engagement solutions and suite of callable services to expand their clinical practices beyond vaccinations,” he said. “We take the back-end stress off pharmacists and the pharmacy, enabling the provision of care in the pharmacy environment.”
While it’s difficult to predict what the next innovation will be, perhaps Pope summed up what lies ahead best with this sentiment: “The future of pharmacy is value-based clinical care deeply focused on patient outcomes and equitable access. The solutions to power that future must be interoperable, integrated and sustainable for pharmacy organizations, granting pharmacists a realistic pathway for clinical practice.”