Patients, Pharmacists Do Not Need to See Generative AI to Understand It’s Potential in Pharmacy


Generative artificial intelligence is a type of self-learning software that can increase the time pharmacists can allocate to patients, improve medication adherence, and allow patients to access health data on a whim.

Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is reshaping the healthcare landscape, according to leading expert Deborah Weinswig, CEO and founder of the research, data, events, and advisory firm Coresight Research, New York City, New York, who sat down with Pharmacy Times and discussed how AI is not only changing the healthcare landscape, but can change how pharmacists and providers think about their approach to helping patients, at National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) Total Store Expo, August 12 through 14, 2023, San Diego, California.

PT Staff: How is generative AI reshaping the healthcare landscape?

Deborah Weinswig: Right now,what we're seeing is that it's having dramatic impact in terms of how people think. And when you start to look at it from a kind of healthcare provider perspective, that's where we're actually seeing some of the biggest changes now.

And if you think about whether it's around imaging, whether it's around clinical trials, I mean, it is having, I think, much more of an impact than anybody ever would have expected in healthcare specifically. And you start to think about how you can engage with a customer in a physical store. And we're starting to see AI move onto devices. And so this idea that you have that kind of compute power, literally in the palm of your hand, and you can start to really think differently about how you don't have to know everything, you'd have to have the prompt to get the answer. And so, you can take care of customers and I think there's an immediacy. And there's also a kindness now; I find it's expected because when you have a prompt and you ask a question, it's responding very kindly. And so, if you kind of just cut and paste as opposed to adding in your own voice, it's talking in a very nice way. And so, this whole idea that, whether it's at the beginning of the lifecycle in terms of raw materials all the way to consumption, generative AI plays a role today. And we're seeing a lot of experiments that are being run. But I think that some of those are actually turning into full blown impact on organizations. Right now, we're actually seeing more of an impact in healthcare specifically, [which is] kind of moving over into like retail pharmacy clinics and obviously the doctor's office as well, and ultimately, I think [it will impact] the relationship that people have with the consumer.

PT Staff: What factors influence the economic argument for generative AI?

Deborah Weinswig: Economics is really what it always boils down to. And if you think about it, we had Metaverse and Web3 a year ago. And that was easy because companies would develop a non-fungible token (NFT) that had value in terms of being able to be sold, and there was an immediate kind of revenue stream—very clear and concise. And there's also the opportunity to talk to the consumers about what you were doing. You could see it. It's digital, but you'd have it in your phone or whatnot [and] you can send it to people.

The challenge, and sometimes with generative AI, is that you can't really see it, you just have to kind of understand it. And so I do think that in some cases, what we're seeing is that it really is the most senior people in the organization who are making some of these decisions because there's this inability to see what it can do. But if you start to think about it:

[First], I'd look at demand forecasting and do a much better job of understanding generative AI. Take when we talked about drug shortages. There are shortages of all kinds of things right now (i.e. take going to the store and facing organized retail crime) [which shows that] there are other things that are driving [drug shortages]. [Generative AI] can do a better job with demand forecasting, number 1.

Secondly, [generative AI can provide] better data and better insights (around retail media networks) so that those retailers who have the traffic, whether it's online or offline, are being properly rewarded. That's significant.

Third, if you start to think about being able to monetize [generative AI], whether it's the anonymization of your consumer data, or anonymiz[ing] some of the other data in your organization. And then, besides that, you can monetize your internet protocol (IP). So, there's now these other revenue streams, whether you are a healthcare provider or whether you're a retailer with your brand, that didn't even really exist 12 months ago.

And so, I think deciding where to start, that's where some of the (I'd say) frustration is. So, I think you just must make a move. Run a few experiments and see what works. If you're also, let's say, not an international company, in some ways it's easier because where you're experimenting is going to be somewhat homogeneous. What we're seeing is a lot of companies that are global are having greater challenges making some of these decisions, because how does this translate outside of the home market? What is the cost of running these large language models? And there are other factors that come into play on the economic side.

But I think that ultimately, we're going to see fewer hours required to do basic tasks— this may [increase] the ability to drive employee engagement and reduce turnover because people are going to enjoy their jobs more. And then I think that ultimately, the numbers we're seeing is that employees are getting back about 33% to 40% of their time. And so, one of the questions that we've been grappling with is, “Are employers going to think about assigning them more tasks? Or are they going to be able to figure out kind of how to use that time to fill in some of what they're doing, and also maybe spend time learning new things to do?”

PT Staff: How can generative AI be used to stay on top of emerging market trends/overcome obstacles in pharmacy?

Deborah Weinswig: So personally, [I’m] somebody who spent a lot of time thinking about adherence and the challenges that we face, especially as somebody who's had aging parents an have had to worry about these [things], such as “I’ve laid out all the boxes for them, but do they know what time is it [so they take their medications on time]? Did they did they go down [the pillbox rows] instead of across? How do I make sure?”

So this idea that [generative AI] can now help with adherence to me, [reflects how it can] impact outcomes and impact our health immediately. And in starting to think about some of these other things—[especially} because generative AI has almost a sensing mechanism—It’s this idea that before running out of your prescription, a new one is delivered to you (obviously you're opting into that), number 1, and number 2 is this idea that, let's say, the efficacy isn't there and you're having some kind of reaction [to the drug]? Your ability to then get the kind of medication at the right time and let’s say in the right kind of form factor is also really critical.

Three, the ability to reach out to someone; I mean, there are these chatbots and they are becoming increasingly intelligent. And so this idea that they can answer questions for you about how to take your medication, if you're seeing any contraindications or if you have any kind of reaction, it’s this idea that you have a kind of partner almost who is there every step of the way. You have your doctor, obviously, and you have your healthcare system. But this is also then removing some of the burden for everyday questions. And chat boxes can also do higher level work if you will. They can be more proactive, and it frees up the pharmacist’s time from a lot of the more maintenance aspect of their jobs.

And one thing to think about, if we start to think about clinics and if you think about the future of pharmacy is— we talked about this idea before we started the official interview— around food prescriptions. In many kinds of pharmacy situations is a wide assortment of food. And so the idea that, not only can I get advice from a pharmacist that is really personalized, you can call it precision medicine, or personalization at scale. But, there's this idea that not only are you getting the right medication for yourself at the right time, [but] you're getting great advice from the pharmacist… who can start to talk to you about some of what you're eating and how you're eating it, how you're feeling and whatnot, and provide advice. And I think this idea that we start to look at the whole human, if you will, the whole customer in a different way than we've been able to before, I think that we are on the precipice of that. They can save the healthcare system a lot of money and a lot of time and have much better outcomes.

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