What’s the single most important technology introduced into pharmacy operations in last 10 years?

I asked this question on Twitter today looking for opinions from the countless number of people roaming the internet. Alas, I received not a single response. Not one. I’m starting to think that Twitter, and most other social media, is worthless as a way of gathering information from people. Oh sure, my Twitter feed is great for consuming an endless string of articles and links, but the few times I’ve actually reached out to the Twittersphere with a question I’ve ended up with bupkis.

Despite my inability to inspire meaningful conversation about pharmacy the question I propose remains: what’s the single most important technology introduced into pharmacy operations in last ten years? One could argue that the greatest piece of technology to this point in the pharmacy timeline has been the computer. Seems like a cliché I know, but no other piece of technology has done more for the profession than the computer. But that’s a little off topic as the introduction of the computer precedes my ten year limit.

Some might say that the introduction of tablets or smartphones have had the greatest impact, but I see those as just another iteration of the computer. And besides, pharmacists don’t make good use of mobile technology, per se. Nurses and physicians have done a much better job of embracing that technology to enhance their practice.

I’ve been a pharmacist for just over 16 years and I’ve seen a fair amount of technology introduced into the profession during that time. I’ve seen automated dispensing cabinets come into their own, robotics in both the inpatient and outpatient environment, high-speed packagers, carousels, automated compounding devices, bar-code scanning, and so on. I’d say that technology has probably impacted outpatient pharmacies more so than inpatient pharmacies, but that’s just an opinion. I have no evidence to back that up.

Some might say that robotics has had the greatest impact, but I don’t see it that way. The promise of pharmacy robotics has been around for more than ten years, but only in the past decade have they managed to garner what I would consider great interest. With that said, the age of robotics in pharmacy is still off in the distance. The robots that I’ve worked with have failed to live up to expectation. They created as many problems and they did solutions. I believe robotics will eventually answer the call and dominate the operational side of pharmacy, but that’s still several years off.

How about high-speed packagers? They’ve certainly increased the efficiency of unit dosing in pharmacies all over the country, but that’s a far cry from changing the way we practice. Pharmacists spend just as much time dealing with the unit-dosing process as they did before high-speed packagers arrived on the scene; probably more. Not exactly a game-changer.

Carousels? No, not in my mind. Carousels are nothing more than high-density shelving that rotates. They can help a pharmacy under the right circumstances, but they won’t make a pharmacist jump for joy, nor will they free a pharmacist from the drudgery of medication distribution.

Barcoding? No. While barcoding has been shown to help pharmacy operations with inventory control and patient safety it hasn’t changed the way we practice. Barcoding has likely had more impact on nursing than it has pharmacy.

Automated compounders in the IV room? This is an interesting one. The introduction of these dudes into practice certainly made my life easier when I was still working as a staff pharmacist. They’re mostly used for compounding TPNs, and they do it very well, but they impact such a small percentage of the daily operations that no one would claim that they’ve changed the practice of pharmacy in a global sense. A pharmacy technician may have a different opinion.

I have worked in many pharmacies, and am trying to work in one again, but I have yet to see any piece of technology that in and of itself has changed the profession in a meaningful way. Sure they help here and there in the right circumstances, but when implemented haphazardly these technologies can actually harm operational efficiency.

Over the past couple of years the most impressive changes to pharmacy practice have come by way of applying “methods” to pharmacy. You know, stuff like LEAN. There are others out there, but this is the one I’m most familiar with and have seen the most in pharmacies around the country. I find it interesting that some of the most operationally sound acute care pharmacies that I’ve ever seen are that way because they’ve optimized their approach, and not because of technology the use.

So, what’s the single most important technology introduced into pharmacy operations in last ten years? There isn’t one, and that’s something worth thinking about.

4 thoughts on “What’s the single most important technology introduced into pharmacy operations in last 10 years?”

  1. Hi Jerry,

    Sorry I missed your Twitter post. From the retail pharmacy side – I tend to think the software and programming introduced to the Rx filling process has been the biggest improvement. Scanning Rx’s, powerful drug-interaction software (which, by the way, still takes LOTS of professional judgment to weed out the unimportant), barcode scanning of bottles in the filling process and visual verification, POS integration. That said – I also think this is the area that needs the greatest improvement…particularly in the area of disease state management and fuller patient profiles.

    Keep writing my friend!


  2. Jerry, can’t believe I missed your Tweet. I have strong opinions on the effectiveness & impact of pharmacy technology. I’d say the evolution of the pharmacy management system. From inventory advancement, automated billing functions, to custom workflow processes. The Pharmacy Software management system is by far the greatest impact on a pharmacy operations.

  3. My answer is not technology perse but it involves new technologies and that is Medication Reconciliation from Hospital to retail as well as Patient Portals.

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