Last spring, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists released findings from a survey that noted a severe shortage of pharmacy technicians. While healthcare shortages are well publicized, the extent to which administrators are tapping pharmacists to help is noteworthy. Ninety percent of hospital and health-system pharmacy administrators said they had asked pharmacists to perform tasks usually handled by technicians. With a lack of technicians, pharmacists and other team members must juggle additional roles and/or work longer hours. Technology can play a role in helping time-strapped pharmacies automate the management of accreditations and document compliance activities like adhering to USP 797 and USP 800. Pharmacy administrators owe it to themselves to consider which technologies could shoulder some of the work to help pharmacists, staff, and patients.
Younger generations rethinking primary care
Hospitals and health-system pharmacies aren’t the only quarter where pharmacists and pharmacy staff are pressed for time. Changes in today’s medical and healthcare landscape will likely see more younger patients seeking pharmacists for consultations as well as filling prescriptions. By way of background, the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that by 2030 the nation will have 100,000 fewer physicians than required. So, younger generations are thinking differently about whom they go to for healthcare. A survey of consumers’ healthcare preferences last month by information services firm Wolters Kluwer indicated Gen X (65%), Millennials (70%), and Gen Z (66%) consumers “could envision most primary care services being provided at pharmacies.” If these forecasts pan out, pharmacists will need more time to consult with patients. Software tools that automate license tracking as well as documenting certifications and training programs could be a fulcrum for lifting pharmacists from these tasks, so they can interact on a higher level with patients.
Pharmacies sought out for broader healthcare options
Pharmacists may begin (if they aren’t already) seeing a rising number of patients coming for a broader array of care. Pharmacists are offering more recommendations and providing immunization against a variety of viruses, which the pandemic may have kick-started. For example, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid to eligible patients last year, rural community pharmacists were able to prescribe this drug to patients who might not have been able to reach another healthcare provider in time. Along with prescribing Paxlovid, pharmacies may soon see a rise in the number of people looking for buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder. The greater demand from patients for consultations as well as medications will also cause an uptick in workload for pharmacists and pharmacy staff. There are limits to what incentives and overtime can do to bridge the gap. So, a cursory analysis of a pharmacy’s workflow and process for management of licensing, contracting, and accreditation could pinpoint practices ripe for automation. That, in turn, would help staff gain a few hours in their day.
Growing demand, fewer pharmacists
Just like the shortage of physicians and pharmacy technicians, there are fewer pharmacists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of pharmacists fell by 6% between 2019 and 2021. Despite these shortfalls, pharmacists, pharmacy administrators, and pharmacy owners have an opportunity to not only meet rising patients’ needs and expectations but also do it profitably and safely. Automating manual processes tied to operational and regulatory tasks gives pharmacists and staff added minutes, even hours, to dispense their expertise. When pharmacies add technology to, for example, manage documents electronically and in a shared location, pharmacists can spend more time consulting on cases. Deploying software for managing documents (e.g., sharing policies, updating procedures, and alerting workers to changes) not only helps pharmacists focus on what they went to school for but also saves costs and reduces errors. Putting in place technology that helps a business redeploy its people and their know-how for maximum value–instead of creating another point of data entry–is a formula for success.