Looking Up

JUNE 01, 2006
Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS; Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief

For most pharmacists, life is good. It has improved over the past few years—and it could get better yet. That conclusion may be a little hard to swallow after living through the Part D debacle. It is based, however, on data from more than 1500 pharmacists across the country.

According to the National Pharmacist Workforce Survey—which admittedly was conducted before Part D came into effect—more than three quarters of pharmacists reported a high level of job satisfaction, up from two thirds in 2000. They also said they were earning more and working fewer hours, suggesting that employers have recognized the value—and the shortage—of good pharmacists. Others have started to recognize the attractions of pharmacy too, including Money Magazine, which rates the profession among the top 10 jobs in America, based on factors like salary, stress levels, and flexibility.

So what could make life even better? Fewer routine tasks and more interesting work. According to the survey, we still spend nearly half our time, on average, filling prescriptions. Many pharmacists would like to see their workload shift away from dispensing toward more interesting and challenging work like counseling and drug use management.

This is one reason that I think technology could play an important role in improving our lives. Automated dispensing systems and other technologies are already making a difference in many pharmacies, and the national survey found that equipment and technology have often improved quality of care and cut the amount of time that pharmacists spend dispensing.

Of course, technology can be threatening and controversial too. In-store kiosks that deliver prescription refills can be seen as replacing some of the traditional contact between pharmacy staff and patients, for instance.

It is important, though, to retain a sense of perspective. Most dispensing systems and other technologies currently automate tasks within the pharmacy but do not interfere with traditional pharmacist interactions with patients.Technology also is often being used to automate functions that would otherwise be handled by a clerk, not by a pharmacist.

I believe we are still in the early stages of learning how technology can automate pharmacy operations. Though automation can be disrupting, it also holds the potential to free us from many of the routine tasks that we do not want to do anyway.

Mr. Eckel is professor and director of the Office of Practice Development and Education at the School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.