Beth Lofgren, PharmD, BCPS
Beth Lofgren, PharmD, BCPS
Beth Lofgren, PharmD, BCPS, received her PharmD degree from the University of Tennessee at Memphis in 1999, after completing a BS at the University of Tennessee at Martin. She started her pharmacy career in retail and has practiced in home health, long-term care, and hospital pharmacy. She has also been blogging as the Blonde Pharmacist since 2004, focusing on education for peers and provider status for pharmacists.

Could a Robot Do a Pharmacist's Job?

SEPTEMBER 16, 2015
The question that pharmacists need to ask themselves is, “Could my job be replaced by artificial intelligence?” Many would confidently respond, "No."

According to Geoff Colvin, author of both Talent Is Overrated and Humans Are Underrated, if your job does not have human behavior in its function, then you will be quite surprised to hear that you are replaceable by a machine.

Computers and robots cannot show empathy, compassion, sympathy or collaboration, but they can check drug-drug interactions and drug-disease state interactions, and then make recommendations. Artifical intelligence (AI) can also check medication compounding with better accuracy than humans.

To survive in the long term, pharmacists need to provide more than just a final verification with order entry and final product.

Pharmacy jobs are a target for automation, especially since medication errors are a big issue in public health safety. An estimated 7000 deaths in the United States each year are caused by preventable medication errors, according to the Institute of Medicine. Medication errors also cost about $16.4 billion annually.

Pharmacists need to collaborate with other health care professionals.

Pharmacists need to build working relationships with physicians and other health care professionals in the hospital or the ambulatory care setting. We need to be a valid member of the health care team offering real-time advice and recommendations on patients during rounds.

If we merely sit in a seat in the same room of a hospital entering orders and checking the final product, we could easily be replaced by robots.

Pharmacists already have the potential to allow computer systems to do the allergy and drug interaction checking for us without much of a thought. Because we now have prescribers entering orders directly into the computer, it is not unfathomable for a computer to check what the prescriber entered with more accuracy than a pharmacist, and for less money.

Pharmacists need to be more involved with direct patient care.

Medication reconciliation is a place where pharmacists could have direct patient contact and ensure that medications are entered correctly into the electronic medical record (EMR).

Pharmacists could be more involved in warfarin and diabetic education by collaborating with other health care professionals. Pharmacists could also be involved with educating patients about their medications before they leave the hospital.

All of these things cost money for the hospital since they are mostly not billable, but the pharmacist would be able to do more than what a computer could do alone.

A computer is simply unable to replace human interaction. Pharmacists need to bring more value to the health care table than functions that can be performed by robots.

In light of this, it is even more vital for federal pharmacist provider status legislation to pass, simply to help add billable functions to the pharmacists' role, instead of just billing for product.

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