Traditional literature doesn’t work for evaluating pharmacy automation and technology, and here’s why

Recently a friend and colleague reached out to me looking for guidance on published studies showing positive ROI for IV room automation and technology. There’s precious little literature covering this practice are of pharmacy, much less getting into things like ROI.

Why is that? As I see it, the problem comes down to these three things:

  1. Bias. Some of what is written, especially in the “throw-away journals” is sponsored content, and as a result, presents a lop-sided view to the reader. It’s still worth reading, but always with a grain of salt.
  2. One-size fits all. Nope. There are too many approaches to compounded sterile product (CSP) production in pharmacies across the U.S. I’ve been in more than 20 acute care pharmacies over the past few years looking at operations, and it’s clear that we’re all doing exactly the same thing completely differently. The solution for a 200-bed community hospital may or may not be a good fit for a 600-bed level 1 trauma center, or a healthcare system with centralized IV admixture servicing several facilities. It all depends on your needs. One must look at several variables and the specific needs of the pharmacy, patient, and healthcare system. Doing anything less is a recipe for wasted time, energy, and resources.
  3. Traditional literature doesn’t work. The typical literature cycle doesn’t work for pharmacy technology. Even though pharmacy automation and technology moves slowly, it still changes at a much more rapid pace than therapeutics and/or best practices. Changes in clinical approaches to the use of medication takes time, and once established typically last until something better comes along. We’re talking years here, sometimes decades. That doesn’t work for pharmacy automation and technology. Research on an IV room robot that was purchased in 2009, installed in 2010, and published about in 2015(1) is of little use to pharmacists looking for relevant information in 2016. It’s doubtful that the technology is still in a form today that could be easily compared to that presented in the article. It’s also entirely likely that the product no longer exists. An article like that offers little to those considering investing in pharmacy automation and technology, perhaps except for general interest or curiosity.

There is clearly a lack of literature on the subject, but there is also clearly no one size fits all approach. If you’re truly looking for the best way to implement automation and technology in your pharmacy, I recommend the following:

  1. Go ahead and do a literature search, focusing on the “throw-aways”. I know, I just spent a page telling you this doesn’t work. You won’t find enough to make a decision, but it will, at least, give you an idea of what products are on the market.
  2. Get some boots on the ground. There is no substitute for seeing the technology in action. Go visit people that are using the product. Don’t be cheap. If you’re going to drop a million dollars on a compounding robot, be willing to spend some money traveling around and looking at these things in real-world environments.
  3. Take your time. This is one area where making a snap decision will cost you. Not only will you spend resources on something that might not be the best fit, you’re likely to be stuck with it for a while.
  4. If you can’t do the above yourself, hire a consultant. Sounds a bit self-serving, but it’s true. Consultants will cost you upfront, but will save you several-fold the cost in the long run.


  • Nurgat, Z., Faris, D., Mominah, M., Vibar, A., Al-Jazairi, A., Ewing, S., … Al-Jedai, A. (2015). A three-year study of a first-generation chemotherapy-compounding robot. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 72(12), 1036–1045.

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