Pharmacy Automation: Opportunities and Risks By Maher Ishak

A new article in Healthcare Finance News suggests that automating hospital pharmacies with robotic laboratory technicians could make intravenous medications safer for patients while reducing waste and cutting costs. These machines can draw up injections in a completely sterile and controlled environment. Because they are protected from contamination, the robots would be able to draw medication for multiple patients from a single vial. Currently, hospitals may only use each vial of medication for a single patient. Any unused medication is wasted.

In addition to cutting waste and contamination, a machine could track drug supplies and automatically reorder when stock became low. Finally, the machine would reduce human error and allow pharmacists to complete other assignments while the machine filled prescriptions. The lower demand for human labor would also decrease the need for expensive benefits and salaries.

However, there is risk inherent in taking steps toward such automation. While the machines might avoid human error in filling prescriptions, they would also reduce the number of human eyes which reviewed each prescription, which could be dangerous. Machines are only as good as the data we give them, and if an interaction is missed on the data entry level, patients could suffer. Before hospitals eliminate skilled pharmacy staff, they need to have a plan in place for carefully reviewing each prescription.

About Maher Ishak: Having earned experience in hospital pharmacies and other settings, Maher Ishak has owned and operated Woodbury Pharmacy in Highland Mills, New York, since 1995.


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