The future of hospital pharmacy is here: how to maximize this resource to improve patient care

The need for a high-performance hospital pharmacy has never been clearer.

Increasingly complex drug therapies, fluctuating demand for critical medications, and growing staff shortages are just some of the challenges that an efficient pharmacy service can help meet. While this function has generally operated behind the scenes of health care delivery, now is the time to elevate the role of pharmacy in health care.

Patients and providers are ready for a more involved pabuse

According to recent research, people place greater trust in the role of pharmacists in managing care, including prescribing medications, performing health and wellness screenings, and providing disease-specific advice. Additionally, nearly 8 in 10 people believe that pharmacists are a reliable source of general health information beyond questions about medications, and rightly so. Today, more than half of licensed pharmacists in the United States are Doctors of Pharmacy, meaning they receive as much clinical classroom training as physicians.

Not only are patients comfortable with the increased involvement of pharmacists, but physicians also place great trust in them. And pharmacists are ready to take on additional responsibilities. When asked if they could meet the future needs of physicians and patients, more than 75% felt they had the ability to serve as a resource for drug interactions, medication management, and pharmaceutical therapy.

Outdated processes can hold pharmacists back

Pharmacists are about to take on an expanded clinical role, but 75% of their time is still spent on non-clinical activities. By moving towards an autonomous pharmacy, where error-prone manual activities are replaced by safer and more efficient automated processes, hospitals and health systems can help pharmacy reach its potential. This will allow it to serve as a resource for patients and other clinicians.

By leveraging technology, pharmacy departments can improve drug safety, optimize the pharmaceutical supply chain, and alleviate some of the challenges associated with persistent staffing shortages.

Improving drug safety

Since medications are the primary method of treatment for most patient conditions, ensuring consistent and reliable medication preparation and dispensing can have a significant impact on patient safety and outcomes. One area where technology can make a difference is sterile compounding.

In most hospitals, sterile preparation is still a manual process subject to inaccuracies and human error. Automating IV preparation with robotic technology can minimize the risk of human error, increase process reliability, and increase throughput.

Pharmacy professionals can prioritize medications prepared by a robot, taking into account the unique makeup of patients and the medication needs of the hospital. When pharmacies incorporate robotics into their dispensing efforts, they can improve efficiency, reduce risk, and help get the right dose to the right patient at the right time.

Supply chain optimization

Disconnected data across multiple hospital systems can lead to security, compliance, and interoperability issues. Without pharmaceutical data analytics, it is difficult to understand and analyze the operational, financial, and clinical performance challenges that healthcare organizations face on a daily basis.

Data intelligence solutions that analyze the full spectrum of drug data, including expiration dates, drug location, therapeutic use, and dispense rates, can uncover trends, enabling pharmacy managers to better optimize their pharmaceutical supply chain. For example, during Covid-19, healthcare organizations experienced recurring drug shortages that sometimes turned into drug stock-outs.

Using data intelligence tools, a pharmacy can monitor Covid-19 treatments and calculate days available and quantity available, which can collectively help calculate if – and when – stock levels may be low. Real-time dashboards provide greater visibility into the drug supply chain, allowing pharmacy managers to analyze operations and improve drug inventory optimization, drug waste reduction and monitoring drug diversion.

Alleviate pressures on staff

Automating the pharmacy does not mean replacing the talented staff who work there. On the contrary, by leveraging technology, hospitals and healthcare systems can free up pharmacy staff to focus on higher value-added activities.

When pharmacy professionals are able to use their expertise and skills, they are available to take on complex tasks or unexpected situations. Freeing up time can also encourage pharmacy professionals to directly support patient care, where state law and commercial payers permit.

This can mitigate some of the risks of widespread staff shortages, as pharmacists can support nurses and doctors, including efforts related to medication education, chronic disease counseling and wellness care.

It is now

Hospital and health system pharmacies are facing a critical moment. To seize the opportunity to play a greater role in patient care, pharmacy leaders must innovate to streamline operations and improve outcomes.

By pursuing strategies and technologies that enable autonomous pharmacy, organizations can align pharmacy with other forward-thinking departments and strengthen their overall ability to provide the safest and most efficient patient care.

Photo: Irina_Strelnikova, Getty Images

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