How Pharmacists Can Stay Relevant: Lessons from Self-Driving Cars


You don't have to be an expert in automation to know that technology is catching up with pharmacy.

You don’t have to be an expert in automation to know that technology is catching up with pharmacy. Barcodes, dispensing vending machines, and mail-order services are all readily available.

Dispensing is becoming a commodity even faster than the future of the self-driving car. The more quickly pharmacists can dispense prescriptions or deliver flu shots, the better for the pharmacy’s bottom line.

Self-driving cars don’t even have steering wheels. The driver is simply a lone passenger, checking e-mail, reading a book, or taking a nap.

Pharmacists don’t want to become the unneeded driver of the past. To stay relevant in patient care, they must provide the knowledge and skills that cannot be replicated by a computer, which include:

Establishing a trusting relationship

One of the most valuable therapeutic effects in primary care is the relationship between the physician and the patient. It takes time and skill to develop that rapport.

Pharmacists of the past knew their patients by name and something about each of them. Think about how you can do that in your practice.

Evaluating data

I like to think of pharmacists as interpreters of important information.

Do we just provide a long printout of drug interactions to physicians or patients? No, we need to first interpret the information, and then we must decide whether the interaction is clinically relevant based on the patient’s other medications, conditions, and clinical situation.

Do we need to warn the patient about symptoms to watch for or call the doctor to recommend an alternate medication? The computer cannot determine this on a pharmacist’s behalf; it all takes clinical judgment.

Providing a unique set of knowledge and skills

Among other skills, pharmacists have a unique ability to obtain an accurate understanding of how a patient actually takes his or her medications. We have access to both data and the patient, which we can leverage to improve medication adherence.

The best, newest, most expensive drug in the world is ineffective if the patient doesn’t take it. Even inexpensive medications like aspirin or antihypertensives don’t prevent heart attacks and strokes unless the patient takes them.

Offering ready access to patients

Chances are that patients who are getting monthly refills of chronic medications from their community pharmacy interact with someone in the pharmacy at least every couple of weeks, while their physician may only see them every few months.

Pharmacists need to take advantage of this frequent contact to develop and make the most of these relationships, which is something that can never be automated.

Robots can perform distributive tasks more efficiently, accurately, and cheaper than human labor. As medication dispensing becomes a commodity, pharmacists cannot expect the reliable job market and wages to continue.

Pharmacists must earn the trust of their patients by interpreting and providing valuable information to them. Using these relationships can improve patients’ use of cost-effective and life-saving medications, which is something a robot cannot do.

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