Robotic Pharmacy

Theme: Healthcare systems


Carlotta Ceccarelli

As a young teen in the year 2020, I can easily say I am not absent on the Tik Tok app, a relatively new social media platform that skyrocketed in popularity during the current COVID-19 pandemic. It is a hotspot for setting trends, where recently medical professionals have been producing a lot of successful content; in particular, people wearing white lab coats, filming their drug dispensing routines to please millions of viewers who deem it ‘satisfying’. The efficient yet meticulous job of a Pharmacist/Pharmacist technician is an addictive topic to watch, where their precision at a high speed fascinates everyone. However, the idea of human error with prescriptions worries me. I often think about what could go wrong if these professionals had an unnoticed slip-up. With more research, I stumbled upon ‘Robotic Pharmacy,’ a method of automated dispensing being introduced to the industry.


I learnt that the job of being a Pharmacist technician is a very difficult one, this occupation is not suitable for people who can’t manage lots of tasks and juggle between clinical and administrative duties. We know producing errors is inevitable, with the average technician making around 5 mistakes a week. But the issue lies within the significance of these errors, by just mixing up units or medical abbreviations, there can be fatal consequences to patients if gone undetected. Same goes for when doctor’s prescriptions aren’t transcribed properly, false conclusions are made from illegible handwriting, sound-alike terminology is muddled up and decimal points being misplaced [1]. These seemingly small mistakes normally come from systematic errors, where humans aren’t as easily equipped with the means to identify and report these issues before it is too late. With careless mistakes comes a price to pay. A former Pharmacist from Ohio was incarcerated for involuntary manslaughter, having his license completely revoked. This was due to the improper preparation of a chemotherapy dosage, as a 2-year-old girl diagnosed with cancer ended up dying from what was meant to cure her [2].


Manual medication errors cost the USA 20 billion dollars annually, prompting the development of robotic pharmacy. Their intended use is to take over tedious and repetitive tasks, where they are programmed to take care of the organisation and distribution of pharmaceuticals. The automation of pharmacy is said to benefit the industry in a lot of ways. Firstly and most importantly, it provides an error-free environment. Additionally, it ensures safety as drugs would be prepared without any patient influence and the machines would be able to control access, reducing medicine theft. The workplace would become a more sterile environment, with increased efficiency and thus a higher patient satisfaction rate [3]. With this promising advancement of artificial intelligence, people like me looking for a career in Pharmacy feel threatened. I rest assured knowing that robots can only perform mundane tasks, leaving people in the profession to focus on the more profitable roles of Pharmacy that involve human judgement, sparing them of excess tedium [4]. With the efficiency of robots, Pharmacists/Pharmacy Technicians have the time to develop into more patient involved careers, perhaps becoming a primary-care centred role. After all, a robot is not able to advise, support and monitor patients as a human can.


The robot technology increase in medical settings is inevitable and already being introduced to more economically developed countries. Their benefits are very pronounced and may or may not impact the employment of healthcare professionals in almost every sector of the hospital. What I took away from this research is the idea that we have to work hand in hand with artificial intelligence, we should be embracing the development of technology to better our lives in the future. Automated systems may reduce the number of faults in dispensing medicine, however, will also introduce new and unforeseen problems into the system. The idea of robotic pharmacy is still very modern, with long term services still not being implemented [5].


Glossary:

  • Dispensing: Authorized or qualified to make up and give out medicine.

  • Prescriptions: An instruction written by a medical practitioner that authorizes a patient to be issued with a medicine or treatment.

  • Automated: Convert (a process or facility) to be operated by largely automatic equipment.

  • Administrative: Relating to the running of a business, organization, etc.

  • Abbreviations: A shortened form of a word or phrase.

  • Transcribed: Transliterate (foreign characters) or write or type out (shorthand, notes, or other abbreviated forms) into ordinary characters or full sentences.

  • Manslaughter: The crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought, or in circumstances not amounting to murder.

  • Pharmaceuticals: A compound manufactured for use as a medicinal drug.

  • Chemotherapy: The treatment of disease by the use of chemical substances, especially the treatment of cancer by cytotoxic and other drugs.

  • Sterile: Free from bacteria or other living microorganisms; totally clean.

  • Primary-care: Healthcare provided in the community for people making an initial approach to a medical practitioner or clinic for advice or treatment.


References:

  1. Pharmacy Technician Guide. 2020. 10 Common Mistakes Pharmacy Technicians Commit On The Job And How To Avoid. [online] Available at: <https://www.pharmacytechnicianguide.com/10-Common-Mistakes-Pharmacy-Technicians-Commit-on-the-Job-and-How-To-Avoid.html> [Accessed 17 October 2020].

  2. Med League. 2010. COMMON ERRORS OF PHARMACY TECHNICIANS. [online] Available at: <https://www.medleague.com/common-errors-of-pharmacy-technicians-expert-witness/> [Accessed 17 October 2020].

  3. Sd Global. 2019. Robotic Pharmacy – The Latest Innovation In Medicine Dispensing. [online] Available at: <https://www.sdglobaltech.com/blog/robotic-pharmacy-the-latest-innovation-in-medicine-dispensing#:~:text=A%20robotic%20pharmacy%20leverages%20robots,a%20recognition%20'coded%20bar> [Accessed 17 October 2020].

  4. Pickett, M., 2016. Robots Are Now Handling Pills. Will Pharmacists Be Liberated Or Out Of Work?. [online] KQED. Available at: <https://www.kqed.org/futureofyou/153628/when-a-robot-counts-out-your-pills-what-will-your-pharmacist-do> [Accessed 17 October 2020].

  5. Dickinson, H., 2017. Replacing Pharmacists With Robots Isn’T The Answer To Better Productivity. [online] The Conversation. Available at: <https://theconversation.com/replacing-pharmacists-with-robots-isnt-the-answer-to-better-productivity-86231> [Accessed 18 October 2020].


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