Pharmacy robots have transformed community pharmacy on a large scale in Denmark. So why have UK pharmacies been slow to cotton on in comparison? Dale Pittock explains…
Reports suggest that nearly 70% of community pharmacies in Denmark use automated or robotic dispensing technology. This figure drops to between 30 to 40% across the rest of mainland Europe. Many pharmacies don’t understand the benefits that pharmacy robots can bring, including time and cost saving efficiencies.
Pharmacies are under increasing pressure from issues like budget cuts, the ageing population and medicine shortages. These all pose challenges to pharmacy management teams, including increased responsibilities, reduced time to spend with customers and limited storage space. Therefore, it’s crucial that pharmacists consider the benefits of incorporating new technology to increase efficiency.
A natural progression from the electronic tablet counters introduced in the 1970s and optical light-beam technology developed for dispensing tablets in the 1980s, automated dispensary systems, or pharmacy robots, are the latest technology being used to streamline the dispensing process. Benefits of using pharmacy robots include being able to store more stock and faster, more efficient picking of prescriptions.
Each automated dispensary system has different technical specifications, but many are able to safely store controlled drugs (CD) and refrigerated items, meaning the machines can be used for almost any medication. This is one reason why many busy hospital pharmacies are taking advantage of the new technology.
Newer systems have an automated loading mechanism, which scan the barcode on the box to keep a record of its location. This is cross-referenced against a barcode on the prescription, allowing the medication to be dispensed automatically, before undertaking the final check by a pharmacist. The recognition rate for medicines by barcode is now above 70%, which means under 30% of medications must be manually stored and retrieved when a pharmacy robot is installed.
Sourcing equipment and disposables, like packaging, which fit and work with the robots can be troublesome. Valley Northern introduced a selection of tablet cartons which are compatible with pharmacy robots, driving cost saving and time saving efficiencies across the pharmacy.
The automated process can also reduce the number of dispensing errors that pharmacists need to avoid. According to research in the Pharmaceutical Journal, The Wirral Hospitals NHS Trust reported a 50% reduction of dispensing errors in the four months after implementing a pharmacy robot. Similarly, in a separate study, the number of items dispensed per pharmacy technician per hour rose from 10 to 15 or more after implementation at Arrowe Park Hospital.
It’s not just hospital pharmacies that are benefiting from robot technologies, community pharmacies are now choosing to install them to increase their efficiency, speed and accuracy. One pharmacist in Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, has reported increasing prescription volume from 8,000 to 17,000 and estimates that patient waiting times have reduced from around 10 minutes to one.
Janice Oman, the National Pharmacy Association’s Scotland representation manager, stressed that “Pharmacies must be progressive and modern, while at the same time being true to (their) historic values as a personal, caring profession.”
Pharmacy robots allow technicians and pharmacists to spend less time manually finding prescriptions and more time with patients. Freeing up space, reducing dispensing errors and reducing patient waiting times are just some of the ways that automated dispensing systems are changing pharmacies in Denmark – and now the United Kingdom.
Dale Pittock is sales director at pharmacy consumables supplier Valley Northern.