How Tech-Enabled Pharmacy Can Help Reinvent the Pharmacy Experience

The outmoded technology used in many pharmacies keeps pharmacists behind the scenes, tethered to slow, intermittent communication with the rest of the patient’s care team.

The current retail pharmacy environment has relegated pharmacists to relatively mundane tasks—faxing documents, verifying medication, and answering the phone—rather than balancing those activities with the complex decision-making and patient care that pharmacists are trained to do. In fact, given today’s overburdened health care system, patients need pharmacists to practice at the top of their license.

However, the outmoded technology used in many pharmacies keeps pharmacists behind the scenes, tethered to slow, intermittent communication with the rest of the patient’s care team.

That’s why I’ve become an advocate for a tech-enabled pharmacy. Embedding technology in the pharmacy can unlock the abilities of pharmacists and technicians to help care for patients, improving their job satisfaction and health outcomes for the patient. With technology, pharmacists and technicians can—and should—be full members of the patient’s care team.

So, what exactly does a tech-enabled pharmacy look like in practice? Envision pharmacists and technicians with access to the equipment and software that better help them do their jobs so they can create the best possible experience for patients. Technology is incorporated into the role, rather than automating the pharmacist out of the role. Appropriately leveraged technology brings the pharmacist-patient interaction to the forefront.

The real value-add of any pharmacy is the people who work there, and technology can help free these experts to spend more time with patients. The highly skilled pharmacists and technicians who staff the pharmacy have knowledge that can greatly improve patient care—but only if they have the time and opportunity to share that knowledge with the patient. This is a deeper layer than most interactions between pharmacists and patients.

For example, in a tech-enabled pharmacy, pharmacists no longer have to painstakingly fill prescriptions by hand in the way they historically have in the retail setting. Instead, the pharmacist can spend their time engaging clinically with patients, answering questions and performing important tasks with a real impact on patient outcomes, such as recommending treatment for adverse effects.

A tech-enabled pharmacy also allows pharmacists and technicians to act as full members of the patient’s care team. When pharmacists can bring their pharmacological expertise together with the medical expertise of physicians and nurses, patients win. Further, pharmacists and technicians are an easily accessible point of contact. Unlike many others the patient may encounter in the health care system, pharmacists and technicians are often just a phone call away.

Software upgrades have also smoothed interactions between pharmacists and their closest partners in the medical system: Prescribers, insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, and suppliers. With these interactions increasingly migrated to the electronic space, pharmacists can manage relationships and close the feedback loop more efficiently than ever. Excellent communication between these players can make a complicated process far easier.

Traditionally, pharmacy locations have relied on outdated fax machines to communicate with doctors on everything from refill notifications to prior authorizations. But by implementing newer technology, the pharmacy shifts from a downstream recipient of prescriptions to a proactive member of the care team.

Digital messaging, for example, allows pharmacists to communicate with providers far faster and more directly than with faxes, increasing the likelihood that the care team can solve any issues before the patient even reaches the pharmacy counter.

Over the past few decades, pharmacy has undergone a rapid shift away from the community pharmacy toward retail settings. But in the process, pharmacists have lost their role in the caregiving team.

Tech enablement is an important part of freeing pharmacists to practice at the top of their licenses and offer excellent patient care. Now, as pharmacy enters a new technological era, pharmacies have the chance to promote pharmacists once again, empowering them to act as providers integral to a patient’s care team.