The Pharmacy Tech-nology Experience


By Regan Pape, RPhT, Clinical Informatician

We’ve all been there, phone’s ringing, someone’s at the door, someone else is asking you a question, and you’re holding a STAT order that you cannot seem to find the medication you need to fill it…. What if there were a better way?

Does pharmacy distribution need to feel this stressful all the time? We’re supposed to have patient safety first and foremost, but in reality, how do we do that when we have a to-do list a mile long and non-stop interruptions?! One answer may be technology! We automate so much in our day to day lives and can access almost everything on our phones. So why not also apply automation to Pharmacy? And what is the right level of technology to incorporate into pharmacy practice and when is the right time?
I believe the time is now and I have been so privileged to work on a Pharmacy project doing just that! As for what is the right level of technology… please let me provide you with my experiences I have had so far.

In my experience, Pharmacy has slowly evolved over time incorporating bits and pieces of technology along the way. I know in my technician schooling we were taught a fully paper-based way of retaining patient records and billing for prescriptions, but we had also experienced software to better manage that. This software maintained the same level of patient safety, but it exponentially increased pharmacy’s efficiency in processing prescriptions.

Moving into the ‘real world’ and into the workforce, I was introduced to many types of technology and automation such as Automated Packaging Machines (APMs), Automated Checking Machines (ACMs), Automated Dispensing Cabinets (ADCs) and other software-based solutions with validation steps that ensure we are dispensing the correct medications to patients.  I believe these automated technologies are setting a precedence for how Pharmacy can utilize technology to maintain our amazing track record for patient safety, while also increasing our overall process efficiency and allowing our valuable human resources to attend to other tasks that might not otherwise be looked at.
If I fast forward into the project I am involved in now, I see an endless possibility for how we can apply automation to the Pharmacy Practice.

  • Can’t seem to find that medication for that STAT order? An Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS) or Vertical Lift Module (VLM) could bring it to you within seconds and you don’t even have to walk to go grab it!
  • Is that order a STAT because it got lost in the shuffle and we weren’t able to fill it when it was actually needed? Software such as a Warehouse Management System (WMS) could easily have organized your work and even warned you that you were getting close to that time it was due!
  • Sick of paper-based record retention? Software is so sophisticated that it can capture all documentation electronically such as user information, photos and weights and can store it for as long as your heart desires – no more paper!

I have seen automation that picks items for you, that applies labels, that sorts orders and packs them out for you, the list goes on and on! The biggest issue I have encountered is trying to prioritize what components we can afford to purchase. Being able to work with some of these vendors has really opened my eyes on all the possibilities we have and has challenged my thinking on what current workflows are and how we can improve them and still adhere to our guiding principles as pharmacy professionals.
I would encourage everyone in pharmacy to challenge the status quo as we enter a new automated world of pharmacy because we are fluid and should be evolving to provide the best patient care possible!

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