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.