For most pharmacists, life is good. Ithas improved over the past fewyears—and it could get better yet.That conclusion may be a little hard toswallow after living through the Part Ddebacle. It is based, however, on datafrom more than 1500 pharmacistsacross the country.
According to the National PharmacistWorkforce Survey—which admittedlywas conducted before Part D came intoeffect—more than three quarters ofpharmacists reported a high level of jobsatisfaction, up from two thirds in 2000.They also said they were earning moreand working fewer hours, suggestingthat employers have recognized thevalue—and the shortage—of good pharmacists.Others have started to recognizethe attractions of pharmacy too,including Money Magazine, which ratesthe profession among the top 10 jobs inAmerica, based on factors like salary,stress levels, and flexibility.
So what could make life even better?Fewer routine tasks and more interestingwork. According to the survey, we stillspend nearly half our time, on average,filling prescriptions. Many pharmacistswould like to see their workload shiftaway from dispensing toward moreinteresting and challenging work likecounseling and drug use management.
This is one reason that I think technologycould play an important role inimproving our lives. Automated dispensingsystems and other technologies arealready making a difference in manypharmacies, and the national surveyfound that equipment and technologyhave often improved quality of care andcut the amount of time that pharmacistsspend dispensing.
Of course, technology can be threateningand controversial too. In-store kiosksthat deliver prescription refills can beseen as replacing some of the traditionalcontact between pharmacy staff andpatients, for instance.
It is important, though, to retain a senseof perspective. Most dispensing systemsand other technologies currently automatetasks within the pharmacy but donot interfere with traditional pharmacistinteractions with patients.Technology alsois often being used to automate functionsthat would otherwise be handled by aclerk, not by a pharmacist.
I believe we are still in the early stagesof learning how technology can automatepharmacy operations. Thoughautomation can be disrupting, it alsoholds the potential to free us from manyof the routine tasks that we do not wantto do anyway.
Mr. Eckel is professor and director ofthe Office of Practice Developmentand Education at the School ofPharmacy, University of NorthCarolina at Chapel Hill.