Scottish government to publish review of automated technology in community pharmacies

The technology being trialled includes robotic process automation, automated medicine storage systems, barcode scanners and prescription collection kiosks.
Photo of a 24-hour automated prescription dispenser at LloydsPharmacy, Totton, Hampshire

A review of a community pharmacy pilot that is exploring the use of automated technology in community pharmacy is planned for publication by the end of 2023.

Patricia Findlay, professor of work and employment relations at the University of Strathclyde, was commissioned by the Scottish government to produce the evaluation, which is due to be completed at the end of November 2023.

Findlay told The Pharmaceutical Journal that her report would examine the use of technology trialled in community pharmacies as part of the pilot, including robotic process automation and automated medicine storage systems.

Findlay did not identify the pharmacies taking part in the scheme, but confirmed that they are all based in Scotland.

She explained that some of the solutions “include integrated scanners to automate the loading of medicines into the dispensing unit”.

“Some have integrated labellers to dispense ‘collection-ready’ prescriptions. All have the capacity for inventory management,” she said.

The evaluation will also look at barcode scanners and automated prescription collection kiosks, which allow patients to pick up their prescriptions out of hours.

“The evaluation started prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and most of the research for the early phases were completed then,” Findlay added.

“The research was effectively paused during the pandemic as pharmacies responded to the new public health context and took on additional roles. The current phase of the research is updating information from the pilot pharmacies to cover the pre-pandemic period until now.”

Adam Osprey, policy and development pharmacist at Community Pharmacy Scotland, said that its members are “increasingly looking to automation and robotics solutions to streamline their dispensing operations and free up time for their teams to deliver clinical services”.

“Workforce challenges have accelerated the pace of this trend, and those with an eye on the future are recognising that between pharmacy technicians being enabled to work under patient group directions, independent prescribing slowly becoming the norm in the pharmacist population and changes in supervision on the horizon, new ways of working are needed,” he added.

“We look forward to the Scottish government report being published so that our members can better understand which investments will provide the biggest gains in efficiency.”

Laura Wilson, director for Scotland at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), said that ‘Pharmacy 2030‘ — the society’s vision for the future of pharmacy — published in February 2022, highlighted the “vital” need to modernise medicines supply.

“In the future, we envisage appropriate automated processes using digital technology being implemented to increase pharmacy teams’ capacity and provide them with more time to concentrate on patient-focused roles.

“Development of automated processes should be done in conjunction with pharmacy teams from all sectors, who can apply their expertise to ensure that any technology which is implemented is both cost effective and complements their clinical setting,” Wilson added.

A spokesperson for the Scottish government commented: “We continue to invest in technology to support community pharmacy teams in delivering their services.

“We are currently investing in a digital prescribing and dispensing programme, which will replace the current paper prescriptions and associated electronic prescription messages with a digital approach by the end of this parliamentary term.

“We have also commissioned an update to a previous evaluation on the use of automated technologies in community pharmacy.

They added: “We expect to have outputs from the report by the end of the year.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, November 2023, Vol 311, No 7979;311(7979)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.201167

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