I have seen the end of operational pharmacists in long term care (#LTC)

I spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday in Baltimore, MD at the ASHP Summer Meeting (#ashpsm). I was there for work, and didn’t have an opportunity to participate in any of the sessions. I did however get the opportunity to visit a large long term care pharmacy called Remedi SeniorCare just outside the city. This particular pharmacy is using Paxit robots to handle the dispensing needs for well over 10,000 long term care beds throughout the area.

I am not a fan of robots in general, but I couldn’t help but be impressed with Paxit. The design is groundbreaking, genius and game changing for long-term care pharmacists. My initial impressions were’t exactly flattering, but after watching it run for the better part of an hour, and listening to the owner talk about it, my opinion changed.

During part of the conversation our tour guide said that the company was able to “lay off five pharmacists” after getting the Paxit machines up and running. My gut reaction was one of anger. Who the heck do they think they are to get rid of pharmacists in a pharmacy! After all, I’m a pharmacist and no machine can replace me. Right? Wrong. Paxit does a fine job of replacing pharmacists in their traditional dispensing role. And it doesn’t make mistakes, it doesn’t get tired, it doesn’t whine about working conditions, it doesn’t show up late or call in sick, it doesn’t need benefits, etc, etc. No, the Paxit robot makes perfect sense in this environment both from a business standpoint as well as a safety standpoint; they’ve been filling prescriptions with Paxit for three years and it hasn’t committed a single dispensing error. I wish I had had such a safety record when I was still a real pharmacist.

After my initial reaction I realized that the fault lies with ourselves, i.e. pharmacy practice itself. It’s our own fault. We’ve created a system where we can be replaced by a machine under the right circumstances. Anyone that’s been in pharmacy for any length of time could have told you this was coming, but we haven’t done anything to stop it. And by stop it I mean change our practice. I worked in an LTC pharmacy for nearly two years. It’s brain-numbing work. There’s very little need for a highly trained clinician in an LTC pharmacy. You certainly don’t need a highly trained clinician to check bingo cards or make sure all the right pills are in a med drawer. If you think you do, then you’re wrong. Dead wrong.

Listen up all you pharmacists stuck behind the counter in retail pharmacies or sitting in the “main pharmacy” in a hospital dutifully counting meds as they go out the door. Continuing down the current path of pharmacy distribution is like putting a gun to the head of your pharmacy career. It’s only a matter of time before you’re obsolete, and it won’t be anyone’s fault but your own. It won’t matter for me as the change is probably still 20 years away, but for those of you just starting a new career “in pharmacy”, you should be looking over your shoulder.

5 thoughts on “I have seen the end of operational pharmacists in long term care (#LTC)”

  1. I agree with your opinion, Jerry. In my place pharmacists’ role in Hospital is dispensing meds. So far we aren’t worried the robots replace us. But I agree that it’s only a matter of time before you’re obsolete, if we don’t do anything else other than dispensing meds.

    I am optimistic because pharmacists have another important role in hospital – the pharmacotherapetic specialists or clinical pharmacists. And I believe this kind of pharmacists certainly couldn’t be replace by robots.

    Tom

  2. It’s only a matter of time before you’re obsolete, and it won’t be anyone’s fault but your own.

    I agree with you Jerry, but I think you fail to see that technology and cost-controls will replace pharmacists in “almost all” of the non-dispensing areas of pharmacy too.

  3. Perhaps, Jason. Perhaps. I’m not quite ready to concede the point, but I’d be lying if I said I had never thought the same thing. It’s begs the question, are pharmacists obsolete?

  4. Are pharmacists obsolete, or will soon be? Yes.

    And once Molecular Manufacturing becomes a reality, 99.9% of the human workforce will join them in that obsolence. In the meantime, don’t rack up too much student debt! (Not that the monetary system won’t die as well with new tech on the horizon, so maybe your debt will juat be dismissed…)

  5. For the obtuse individuals that think ‘clinical’ roles will save the day:

    1. There is no financially viable billing for MTM.

    2. For the few clinical pharmacists out there (full time folk), the mass of redundant pharmacists, compounded with 2X yearly (currently) over produced graduates will wash away your job security to a rotating door situation.

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