Smiling pharmacist handing senior man a packet of blue pills
Allied News April 28, 2018

How Automation is Helping Pharmacists Take on New Roles

Although the growing trend of automation may seem alarming to those looking for pharmacy jobs, the resulting expansion of the pharmacist’s role as a member of the healthcare team is cause for excitement. Here's a look at how the pharmacist's job description is changing and how technology can help.

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PHARMACY JOBS AND THE BURNOUT PROBLEM

Gallup polls consistently rank pharmacists high in ethical standards and honesty. Three of the top-rated occupations are in the healthcare industry — nurses, doctors, and pharmacists. Of these three, the retail pharmacist is the most easily accessed health professional. Without an appointment, you can visit your local pharmacy and receive answers to a variety of questions concerning health and medications.

Unfortunately, this access comes at a cost. Most store pharmacy jobs include no designated lunch period, long work hours and an obligation to be continuously available to your demanding public. It's no wonder that pharmacists are increasingly at risk for burnout.

New advances in automation are able to lessen the stress in pharmacy and pharmacy tech jobs by removing monotonous and repetitive tasks and replacing them with rewarding patient-centered duties. \

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Automation Tools That Help Take The Burden Off

  • Pill counters  

What used to take an enormous amount of time during a pharmacist’s day can be accomplished in minutes thanks to the various pill counters on the market today. Simple models just count pills; more advanced designs take photo images to supply documentation of the drug and quantity dispensed.

  • Automated dispensing machines  

These devices go beyond pill counting by bottling, capping and labeling prescription vials. Locking containers heighten medication security and specialized controlled substance dispensers keep a running inventory count of narcotics. Hospital dispensing machines  give pharmacists a chance to get back to patient-focused care.

  • Adherence packaging systems

These machines create strip packaging to be used in medication management. Each day's regimen is sealed into plastic strips that are designated for morning, noon, evening and bedtime dosing. Medication management systems are ideal for group homes, assisted living facilities or elderly patients living on their own. Supplying all the medication in one batch saves the patient time and reduces the repetition in pharmacy jobs.

  • Unit dose packaging equipment  

These specialized machines seal individual tablets and capsules into cellophane or plastic squares. The individually labeled pills are used in hospital and nursing home carts for nurse-performed med passes.

  • Inventory management systems

Pharmacy jobs require a significant amount of inventory management skills. Systems designed to reduce on-hand inventory and increase turns save time and money. They also increase patient safety with barcode and image recognition software. Space that was formerly used for storage can be devoted to other pharmacy activities.

TECHNOLOGY ADVANCES LEAD TO PATIENT-CENTERED CARE AND LET PHARMACY JOBS INCLUDE NEW ROLES

All these new technologies let pharmacists step out from behind the counter and interact as the health advisor they were trained to be. Artificial Intelligence is becoming a reality in health care occupations as well, and the new positions it creates will be just around the corner. Farsighted university programs and supportive associations are making sure that pharmacists are ready to embrace their expanded role in health care.

  • Medication Management Therapy (MTM)

During an MTM consult, a pharmacist meets with a patient and discusses their medical history and current Rx usage. The pharmacist is looking for adherence problems, drug interactions, high-risk medications and recommended treatments for certain chronic conditions. The pharmacist will assist the patient and their doctors in creating a workable treatment plan.

Steve Anderson, an independent pharmacist in Canton, Ohio, enjoys his time spent in MTM work. "It is an unfortunate fact that many people do not take their medications as prescribed,” he says. “If their adherence problem is medication cost or side effects, I can work with them and their doctors to find alternative therapies. I always follow up with my patients in a month or two to see if they've been able to increase their compliance."

Insurance companies now realize that money spent on MTM pharmacy jobs is gained through reduced inpatient hospitalization and emergency room visits. The American Pharmacist Association has documented how one such program in Ohio proved beneficial to a Medicaid provider.

  • Immunizations

Americans have come to understand the importance of the yearly flu vaccine, and new vaccines are developed each day. Doctor’s offices often experience difficulty ordering and storing the required serums. Pharmacists are the logical choice to offer immunizations as they have immediate access to wholesale drug vendors and are readily accessible to high-risk populations.

  • Clinical patient consults

Clinical pharmacy jobs engage in patient-focused care in hospitals and group practices. Pharmacists make hospital rounds with the doctors to advise on medication therapies and spend time visiting hospital care divisions. Some medical group practices have their patients meet with the staff clinical pharmacist to discuss newly ordered medications and address any concerns with current treatments.

  • Management of specific disease states

Since retail pharmacies are located in the same geographical area as their patients, they have the advantage in trying to manage chronic disease states. Diabetes, high cholesterol, COPD and asthma are all conditions that may be addressed through local pharmacy management programs. These initiatives provide a variety of services including record keeping, group counseling, coordination of care and individualized instruction on medical devices and medication administration.

Pharmacists Continue To Provide Quality Care

The willingness to assume new roles and master technology is characteristic of those employed in pharmacy jobs. And technology that takes the tedium out of daily pharmacy work is now allowing pharmacists to step into roles that can provide for better patient outcomes.

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