If you've followed our blog or subscribed to the Shelving Design Systems mailing list for any length of time, you know that we’re firm believers in pharmacy automation. That belief is not, however, built on faith or intuition; it comes from years’ worth of time spent on pharmacy design and observing the results. And we’re not the only ones paying attention. Although a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health on the effects of pharmacy automation wasn't exactly a page-turning thriller, it underscored the effectiveness of automation. Having answered our question a bit early, let’s take a closer look at how and why automation works — and whether it’s effective for small pharmacies as well as larger concerns.
How Automation Works
Many of us think of machines handling pills to fill scripts, and that’s the most common use of automation and robotics in modern pharmacies. However, there are many other innovative uses to which automation is being put.
From installing customer-facing prescription vending machines to adding flavoring to pediatric medications during reconstitution, to using robots to assist with customer service, the field is growing by leaps and bounds. Not every form of automation will be sensible in all settings, but exploring your options can help you identify opportunities to benefit.
So how can you benefit?
As you automate and get a deeper view of your workflow, you become acutely aware of how every minute is spent. You also begin to gain insight into how to spend each minute better, whether you’re spending more time on tweaking processes, offering clinical services, improving employee training, or increasing patient engagement.
Human error is a fact of life for all of us. For automated systems, it’s practically nonexistent. The smallest errors can have catastrophic consequences, so anything that minimizes them doesn’t simply save time; it will improve morale and lead to better health for your patients.
Lower Employee Stress
High workloads increase the possibility for error and leave a nagging feeling that we’re falling behind. Because it improves efficiency, automation lets employees better manage workflow and time, thereby performing to the best of their ability with less stress.
Improved Patient Outcomes
Easy-access packaging, clearer labeling, color coding, and even machine-cutting pills into half doses can each improve prescription adherence. However, if you’ve read to this point, it’s probably dawned on you that each of the benefits leading to this point will naturally dovetail to improve adherence and patient outcomes as well.
Ask nearly anyone who’s involved in any aspect of pharmacy and none of us got into it because of medication. We’re here for the human touch, and what our profession brings to patients’ lives. So if a pharmacist is able to engage with patients in a meaningful way, that’s been shown to improve adherence — which, in turn, improves patient outcomes and patient retention — we’re able to serve better, and get closer to what drew us to the field in the first place.
Finding, and Building For, the Right Automation
Utilizing the latest advancements in technology helps keep your independent pharmacy competitive. However, there’s no single correct way to automate. There are all types of automation solutions to fit every size and type of pharmacy—from simple counting machines to multipurpose robotics. If you’re not investing in the types of technologies, alongside suitable pharmacy fixtures that can move your business forward, then you may get left behind.
Of course, automation is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle. Introducing it in the wrong way can, paradoxically, cause some of the same problems it should be solving. You’ll need to evaluate the possibilities against your existing space, pharmacy design, and needs in order for automation to deliver the many benefits it’s capable of, and one of the best ways to do that is to get another set of eyes on the problem. For pharmacies in the Southeast, Shelving Design Systems provides that expertise alongside design, retail pharmacy solutions, and a variety of other settings. Contact us today for help getting started.