AI and machine learning boost access to automation

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NEW YORK — Technology is helping to change the landscape of retail pharmacy. Increased artificial intelligence and machine learning facilities, teamed with the lower cost of automated systems, have even placed automation within reach for smaller pharmacies.

It is true that some mom and pop pharmacies have held onto traditional ways of doing things. But as the benefits of automation continue to grow, many of these smaller businesses have embraced the digital movement in their day-to-day operations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has sharply increased the demand for pharmacy and health care services. Consequently, pharmacists have seen their workload increase significantly as they administer COVID-19 vaccines, boosters and tests on top of filling prescriptions, all while facing staff shortages,” says Tom Utech, group president of product and software at iA.

“Pharmacists have long been overburdened with administrative tasks, resulting in less available time to balance between filling prescriptions and the direct patient care that is a need in the community. The problem that retailers now face is how to free up more time for pharmacists for higher-value work now that their services are needed more than ever,” he adds.

He points out that iA’s prescription fulfillment solutions are the answer to this problem. “Using iA’s proprietary enterprise pharmacy fulfillment software platform, NEXiA, pharmacies can automate prescription filling, thereby unburdening pharmacists from excessive workloads caused by manually filling prescriptions. This enables them to focus on directly interacting with patients. Automation of this kind aids the industry in a variety of ways that serve pharmacies, health care providers and, most importantly, patients.”

Utech notes that iA’s fulfillment solutions automate tasks prone to human error while speeding up the fulfillment process — each robot can label, fill and image up to 300 prescriptions per hour. “This efficient solution in turn gives pharmacists more bandwidth to interact with patients and better address their health care needs. This also alleviates some of the burden placed on health care workers by allowing pharmacists to perform to the top of their licenses.”

He adds that the positive impact of iA’s hardware and software has improved and continues to improve prescription management for patients, particularly due to pharmacists now having more time and energy to manage customers’ various, intertwined prescription needs. “Through its third-party partner, iA can offer therapy management solutions that allow pharmacy providers to implement multiple-medication dispensing methods outside of the traditional bottle or vial methods. Pharmacy providers using NEXiA can easily customize a patient’s medications by integrating easy-to-use adherence pouch packs.”

He says that automation has often been criticized for being a source of unemployment in an increasingly mechanized economy — but this couldn’t be further from the truth in the case of pharmacy automation. “iA’s groundbreaking NEXiA software and pharmacy automation solutions are bringing back a core human element to the pharmacy by freeing pharmacists from administrative burdens and enabling them to provide care to patients,” Utech concludes.

Samantha Cockburn, vice president of marketing and customer experience at Synergy Medical, notes that pharmacies that relied on manual Rx fulfillment were challenged by the pandemic like no other time, and the industry has certainly not been spared from the current labor shortage.

“At Synergy Medical we realize the business of pharmacy is increasingly a low-margin, high-volume business. When margins decrease, you need more volume to retain profit. Our focus with the SynMed XF and SynMed Ultra systems is significant reduction of time to produce blister packs with a high degree of accuracy. Efficient processes allow growth without adding labor. Furthermore, less time focused on dispensing is more time for service revenue opportunities. We believe this is the way for pharmacies to survive and thrive in this environment.”

She points out that a critical element of a comprehensive adherence program is multi-dose blister packaging. “Organizing a patient’s medication by day and time of administration in multi-dose blister packaging is a well-proven approach to boosting patient outcomes, while simultaneously driving revenue through incremental fills and loyalty. Manual production, however, is slow and prone to error, and many pharmacies stop promoting the service due to production stress. Automating the process with the market-leading SynMed technology, however, enables a pharmacy to scale their adherence program without chasing higher volumes with labor, and ensures an accurate and safe way to grow their business.”

She notes that year over year there are steady increases in the number of pharmacies offering the multi-dose blister card service to their patients. “They see it as a low-cost, low-tech, yet elegant way to organize their patients’ medication to drive medication adherence — and better patient outcomes. Many quickly realize, however, that this is a service that is difficult to scale without adding labor. That is typically when we receive an inquiry. The SynMed system automates the blister filling and allows the pharmacy to rapidly expand access to the blister card service, while holding production costs in check. There is a suite of SynMed products that allow pharmacy to adapt to the volume and type of patients they fill for.”

Another major player is ScriptPro. ScriptPro’s end-to-end pharmacy solutions help health systems build sustainable and profitable operations. From robotics and workflow to powerful clinical tools and fully integrated EHR, ScriptPro brings the most advanced features that a staff and patients want and need. ScriptPro’s newest robot, MP 100, provides convenient prescription adherence solutions for patients while providing new profit streams and value-based pharmacy services.

The company also offers Vial-Filling Robotics with the CRS 150 and SP 200. “It helps pharmacies take on today’s staffing challenges and power growth for the future,” says the company.

Along with SP 200 and CRS 150, attendees can get a firsthand look at the company’s new medication pouch packaging solution at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores’ Total Store Expo later this month. “The MP 100 is a proven and reliable single- and multi-dose medication pouch packaging system that is easy to use and integrates with both ScriptPro and non-ScriptPro pharmacy systems,” the company notes.

“In addition, ScriptPro’s CRS 75 is said to be perfectly tailored to be the small but mighty powerhouse for a pharmacy. With a footprint of only seven square feet, it’s the smallest robot for capacity on the market. It covers peak times and resolves staffing issues, so pharmacies can focus on expanding services and patient care,” the company adds.


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