Embrace technology in order to release time for pharmaceutical care

Article by Norman Lannigan Lead for Evaluation of Automated Technology (EAT) 

The Wilson and Barber review of pharmaceutical care in the community advised that the potential of automated dispensing systems, including robotics, should be evaluated for its potential to release time for more pharmaceutical care. This led to the establishment by the Scottish Government of the Evaluation of Automated Technology (EAT) work stream under the Prescription for Excellence programme, which I was asked to lead.

I have a background of leading a significant redesign of hospital pharmacy services, which involved centralisation of infrastructure services and automation of distribution and dispensing processes to improve access for patients to the skills of clinical pharmacists and pharmacy technicians at their bedside.

The project involved the establishment of a large automated hospital pharmacy distribution centre (PDC) which distributes 100,000 packs of medicines to 4000 destination points each week from the eastern boundary of the city of Glasgow to rural Argyll. The project also developed three central automated dispensaries which deal with individual patient prescription needs.

As a result, the PDC is able to supply 98% of medicines within 24 hours of order and the overall redesign of the service has delivered significant savings for reinvestment in services and has avoided medicines waste through the use of patients’ own medicines during their stay in hospital.

The EAT project has now established and resourced a number of pilot sites in community pharmacy. The overall goal is to evaluate whether a similar approach, through the adoption of automated dispensing technology, is able to release time to deliver the patient facing aspects of the NHS community pharmacy contract services such as the Minor Ailments and Chronic Medication Services.

With the support of a team from University of Strathclyde, both automated robotic and semi-automated scanning dispensing systems pilots will be fully evaluated.  The evaluation team will take an action research approach working with pilot sites to identify changes in practice, enabled by automated technology, which may result in releasing time to care.

The rising demand for prescription medicines means that the delivery of patient facing services is challenged, yet the future of pharmacy is dependent on the development and utilisation of clinical skills.  It is unlikely that the resources enabling us to operate in the way we do now will be able to meet the rising prescription volume demands.

Technology should be embraced by pharmacy as a tool to assist with service redesign and not resisted. Such a strategy might release skills of our pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to provide pharmaceutical care, enriching careers and improving the health of our patients. Future generations of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians deserve job enrichment and, more importantly, our patients expect and deserve enhanced pharmaceutical care from the professionals who look after them.

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