The pandemic has been one of the biggest health crises of the last few decades. Hospitals, pharmacies, and all other health fields have all made large changes in response to COVID-19. 82% of hospital pharmacists changed their top technology initiatives in response to COVID.
As the pandemic began, 70% of hospital pharmacists had to take on new job responsibilities. On top of that prescription demand increased by a massive 15%, this required a lot more of and pushed staff towards burnout.
86% of hospitals also had to change medication-use guidelines. This was to expand treatments to help with COVID and pursue new investigations into helpful drugs. Finally, pharmacies had to send materials such as hand sanitizers, disinfectants, and medications to overworked hospitals.
All of this together led to 75% of pharmacists reporting feeling burnt out. As far as May in 2021, 80% of pharmacies were struggling to fill open positions, only further pushing responsibilities onto existing staff. The majority of these vacancies were in the pharmacy technician and front end positions, but staff pharmacists also saw some unfilled openings.
On a more general level, pharmacies have also been seeing major supply chain issues. Drug shortages from 2017 to 2020 represented the primary issue faced by central pharmacies, and COVID only served to make the issue worse, 86% of pharmacists saying there were increased drug shortages.
In response 94% of central pharmacies made changes to their supply chain. This may mean looking for new distributors, simply increasing inventory, or most notably, automation. Manually having to go through all the inventory and deal with the supply chain is a time consuming, slow process.
Pharmacy automation serves to solve this problem. This may mean physical sorting machines and dispensing cabinets, but it may also mean systems to do medical checks, sort inventory, track the patient database, and monitor more dangerous substances. Automated systems are faster and more safe, preventing adverse drug events that human error may cause.
These systems also notably reduce human contact. This was a big focus as the social distancing and lockdowns were at their peak, but still remain important today. Automated technology in respect to distribution makes packaging easier, reduces human checkpoints, and leaves fewer points for error. Overall producing an easier process both for the human staff and people picking up their prescriptions.
Tracking and managing drugs is a challenge for human pharmacists. Drug recalls can take up to 10 human hours to address and currently 16% of all pharmaceutical inventory goes to waste. An automated system will quickly move near-expired drugs to high demand locations, quickly process drug recalls, and dispense medication more consistently.
For a direct comparison, pharmacy technicians can process up to 120 medications per hour. This comes in at an average salary of $18 per hour or $0.15 per medication picked. On the other hand an automated dispensing system can process up to 700 medications per hour. The operating cost of this would equate to $12 per hour or $0.02 per medication picked. In an industry where there’s a massive shortage in technicians it’s a better time than ever to implement automatic systems.
And many pharmacies are positive about this change. 40% of hospital pharmacists said operation technology is critical to success in 2020. 46% said automated dispensing was critical, 42% controlled substance tracking, 41% tracking and room cleaning automation, and 40% perpetual inventory management.
COVID-19 revealed some glaring weaknesses and shortages in the hospital pharmacies. It was under this pressure though that these industries started to revolutionize and look at ways to automize. Technological automation being one of the leading ways this has been done. COVID and the pandemic were world shattering events, but the response that came from it could serve to be a real positive to industries like central pharmacies in the long run.