Pharmacy robotics is a subset of Pharmacy_Informatics that utilizes robotics technology to assist pharmacies in increasing the efficiency and safety of medication storage, filling, and dispensing.
From 2000 to 2009, the number of chain drugstores like CVS and Walgreens increased by 11% to 39,000 stores . This increase has significantly increased prescription volume as well as the demand for clinical services of pharmacy technicians and pharmacists. Pharmacy robotics can currently be found in nearly all settings of pharmacy practice, including inpatient acute care hospital and long-term care settings, outpatient retail settings, logistics and supply chain settings, and central fill warehouses utilized to mass dispense medications through mail order pharmacy programs and other distribution channels. According to BCC research, the global pharmacy automation technologies market should grow from $5.1 billion in 2019 to $7.8 billion in 2024 .
Inpatient pharmacy robotics assist pharmacy staff in a number of functions in both the acute care and long-term care settings. Functions currently utilized by pharmacy robotics include unit-dose picking for inpatient wards, in which specific medications are filled by robots for individual administration by nursing staff. Additionally, these robotic systems can assist in prepacking bulk medication for restocking in Automated_dispensing_machines. Examples of these systems include Swisslog's Pillpick  and Therapick  systems.
Other robots in the inpatient setting, such as Baxter's Intellifill IV , are designed to prepare individual syringes for intravenous compounding use. Although this technology is currently minimally used, in 2017 over 14% of inpatient facilities were shown to be utilizing robotic technology to assist in compounding nutritional support formulations such as total parenteral nutrition .
Pharmacy robotics have additionally been utilized in institutional hospital settings to assist staff in delivering medications to patient-specific rooms .
Within the outpatient pharmacy setting, pharmacy robotics are primarily utilized to assist in dispensing and storage of medications. Scriptpro, a company specializing in outpatient pharmacy robotics systems, claims that robotic dispensing can fill an estimated 30-60% of pharmacy daily prescription volume. Additionally, these robots can be designed to take up as little as 7 square feet of space and fill at rates as high as 150 prescriptions per hour .
In addition to the more traditional functions of filling tablets and capsules into bottles for routine dispensing, companies focused on pharmacy robotics are also further advancing robotic technologies by individualizing medication packing into "pouch packaging," which takes a patient's daily regimen and labels them for individual use, helping to increase adherence and timely administration .
Benefits to Pharmacy Robotics
One of the primary benefits of pharmacy robotics is its ability to increase efficiency and safety of medication filling and dispensing. The majority of robotics utilize barcode scanning technology to identify appropriate medications and individualize the experience. Additionally, robotics can function around-the-clock, cutting down on human expenditure. Hospitals like the Nebraska Medical Center have utilized inpatient pill picking technology to help fill over 10,000 medications per day, a task that decreased workload for pharmacists from 12 hours to 4 hours per day and decrease nurse calls for missing medications by 70%, as reported by CNBC in 2016 .
A common fear of pharmacy technicians and pharmacists naive to pharmacy robotics is that these technologies will take jobs away from humans. Conversely, this has not taken jobs away from the pharmacy profession, but has removed more menial tasks such as counting pills and shifted work to more clinical tasks and allow pharmacists to be part of the healthcare team rather than spending their time on less clinical verification duties. Cutting wait times down in the outpatient pharmacy setting has allowed pharmacists to participate in more counseling with patients and has shifted technician focus towards that of handling insurance claims and order entry.
Other major advantages of pharmacy robotics include a decrease in waste, an increase in accuracy, and data utilization and traceability in order to assist in identifying where an error occurred during medication administration.
Although error rates among pharmacies have historically been low, a study conducted by Rodriguez-Gonzalez et al. in the Journal of Evaluation of Clinical Practice (2019) found that the addition of a robot in a 1300-bed tertiary care hospital in Spain decreased overall medication errors from 1.31% to 0.63% (relative risk reduction 51.7%). Additionally, the robotics implementation saw a 59% reduction in staff time devoted to stock management as well as an overall high rate of staff satisfaction .
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