Will Pharmacy Automation Replace Staff?

At Synergy Medical, we design, manufacture, and sell robotic pharmacy automation systems for preparing and dispensing solid oral medications in blister card formats. Pharmacy automation, in general, has been around since the 1990s and is steadily increasing in adoption globally. As technology and robotics become more advanced, a common question that many individuals working in pharmacy environments have is “will automation replace pharmacists?” To answer that question simply: no.

Pharmacists and their staff provide many services and solutions to their patients — filling medications is but one part of their jobs. At SynMed®, one of the top benefits of our pharmacy automation technology is freeing up pharmacy staff’s valuable time so they can focus on other critical tasks such as interacting and building relationships with patients. The concerns that pharmacy staff have about being replaced by robots are valid, but automation could never truly replace pharmacists and their staff. Automation is only intended to make the lives of pharmacists easier, to increase efficiency and patient safety, to drive revenue for the pharmacy, and to provide peace of mind.

Benefits of Pharmacy Automation

Accuracy & Safety
One of the greatest benefits of pharmacy automation is the fact that it greatly reduces pharmacy errors and significantly increases safety. Prescriptions are sent electronically through the pharmacy’s management system and SynMed® automatically selects, counts, and positions the correct medication in the correct dose time of the blister cards —eliminating the need to take and fill prescriptions by hand. All of SynMed®’s blister card options contain many practical reference elements for the care provider and the patient such as the patient’s photo and a picture of both sides of the tablet.

Speediness
Manually preparing blister packs prevents an independent pharmacy from being able to scale. When pharmacy staff is bogged down by manual preparation tasks, their ability to perform other pharmacy tasks is limited. There are only so many hours in a day! SynMed® pharmacy automation systems are capable of preparing both single-dose and multi-dose blister packs at rates of up to 180 single-dose cards per hour and 80 multi-dose cards per hour!

The Pharmacy technician running a SynMed® XF, for example, can produce 5x the amount of blister cards than she or he would have produced by hand. This extra time allows for better planning and execution of patient orders and more time for patient consultation. Furthermore, with the reliable accuracy of SynMed® and the convenient markers and images on the labels, pharmacist verification time is cut in half. Pharmacies using SynMed® technology are quickly able to eliminate long wait times and take on additional retail and institutional clients due to their newly available time and human resources.

Medication Adherence
Due to the nature of personalized blister cards that are grouped by dose time and day of the week, SynMed®-generated packaging helps customers remember to take their medication at the proper time on the correct day. It has been proven that patients with multiple medications who use blister cards take the proper dosages as prescribed 97% of the time versus 61.2% of the time for those who do not use blister cards.

A SynMed® system improves the health and safety of patients as well as the pharmacy’s bottom line. As it relates to traditional medication packaging, an average refill on a 30-day prescription is 37-45 days—meaning the patient waits for one to two weeks between refills during which time they do not take their medication. Fewer timely refills mean unfavorable outcomes for patients and lost revenue for pharmacies. Failing to take medication as prescribed has cost the healthcare industry nearly $300 billion dollars annually.

Vials, packages, and other traditional packaging methods for prescriptions are not helpful in facilitating adherence. Blister packs have been proven to boost adherence rates from 61% to 97%—a 36% increase JUST from changing the packaging!

Peace of Mind
This automated process gives pharmacists the peace of mind to focus on improving pharmacy workflow while simultaneously working on giving patients great care and customer service. In the long run, this enhancement of customer service will help improve the pharmacy business as a whole.

Limitations of Automation

As effective as pharmacy automation is for growing an independent pharmacy business, it does have its limits and simply cannot replace humans in the pharmacy environment. First, bulk loading medications into your SynMed® system must be done by hand. Next, the tech engages with our software to begin the filling process. followed by inserting production trays into the robot. During the filling process, a human oversees the robot to intervene should there be a refill need or technical issue. Finally, every prescription must be checked by a tech, then double-checked by a licensed pharmacist before it is sent out — this process is called visual verification and it’s a legal requirement in all 50 states and throughout Canada.

Pharmacy automation machines also require maintenance (by humans) and these machines do not have an unlimited supply of materials. They must be restocked with inventory when it runs low, making the presence of a staff member on-site with the technology critical. Thankfully, SynMed® maintenance is minimal, and a trained technician will be on-site every 3 months for preventive maintenance.

Automation helps pharmacists be more than a pill-counter and allows them to have more of an active role with their customers, thereby increasing positive medical outcomes, improving patient experience, and positively impacting their health. Filling prescriptions is but one small part of the tasks of pharmacy staff, and it is the only part of the job description that can be done by a robot — all other tasks must be done by humans.

Pharmacists are our experts on prescription medications, their side effects, and potential interactions with other drugs. Whenever you have a question about your medication, a pharmacist is there to answer them for you. If you need advice about your prescriptions, have concerns about a medication interaction, or are experiencing side effects and need a plan, your pharmacist is the one you call — all things robots are simply not able to do.

Why SynMed<sup>®</sup>?

SynMed® technology seamlessly interfaces with existing pharmacy management systems to manage all operations from prescription reception, organization, blister card production, and label creation. It is also currently compatible with over 30 blister card types and growing.

When a SynMed® system is installed, independent pharmacies can expect a 5x increase in production speed immediately, thereby giving them ample opportunity to increase revenue, improve their Medicare star rating, sync patients’ medications, and provide a better overall customer experience. SynMed® technologies are a safe, simple, and personalized way to fill blister card prescriptions and grow your pharmacy business.

Contact us today to find out more and to see how simple it is to get started!