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How can artificial intelligence help community pharmacists?

Community pharmacy professionals are being squeezed like never before. Could artificial intelligence (AI) lend a helping hand, asks Saghir Ahmed

AI has revolutionised various industries – including healthcare – by streamlining processes, reducing human errors and improving outcomes.

Pharmacy can certainly benefit from AI interventions. For it to be effective, AI needs to drive efficiencies, create more time for pharmacists so they can spend more time with patients and help improve patient outcomes.

Read more: Automation and services: 'Pharmacy of the 21st century' opens in Letchworth

Pharmacists play a critical role in ensuring patients receive the right medications at the right doses at the right times. Pharmacists also provide counselling and education to patients on medication use, side-effects and interactions. However, the workload for pharmacists, technicians and their teams has increased significantly over the years, making it challenging for them to manage all their responsibilities.

The increasing number of prescriptions, complex drug regimens and administrative tasks have left little time for pharmacists to spend with patients. When they do, it is often rushed and can be inadequate. Adding to the team with more human resources would be ideal but this is often not cost-effective and almost impossible in the current funding situation. This is where AI can help.

One of the significant benefits of AI in pharmacy is that it can automate repetitive tasks, freeing up pharmacists' time. For example, AI-powered robots can dispense prescriptions accurately and efficiently. Robot dispensing machines use machine vision to scan barcodes, identify medications and sort them by dosage and strength.

They can also package medications in blister packs, reducing the risk of errors and improving medication adherence. This automation can reduce the time pharmacy teams spend dispensing prescriptions, allowing them to focus on patient care. Understandably, these robots incur a large capital investment, which is inhibitive to many contractors but is nevertheless a solution for many others.

Read more: How one independent pharmacy frees up staff time with five robots

Patient medication records (PMRs) need to change significantly. They are the cornerstone of all dispensing activity in a dispensary and all processes are subject to how the PMR operates. Titan has shown that a PMR, which is designed to reduce pharmacist involvement while ensuring accuracy with dispensing, checking and inventory management, can be a huge time-saving generator.

Pharmacists can therefore spend more time with patients, improve healthcare outcomes and provide time for delivering clinical healthcare services, which generate new income. Other PMR providers must develop and innovate quickly, otherwise they will lose market share.

Another area where AI can help is in medication management. It can analyse patients' electronic health records and identify potential drug interactions, duplicate therapies or allergies. It can also monitor patients' vital signs and detect changes, which may indicate adverse drug reactions or the need for a medication adjustment.

This analysis can alert pharmacists to potential issues and help them intervene before they become serious problems, which can be helpful in community pharmacy but may also be useful for primary care pharmacists.

AI can also help pharmacists and physicians personalise patients' medication regimens. AI algorithms can analyse things like a patient's race, ethnicity, age, where they live and occupation to factor in the risk of certain conditions and identify medications that may be more effective or have fewer side effects for them. This personalised approach can improve medication efficacy and reduce the risk of adverse effects.

AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can also assist pharmacists in answering patients' questions about medications. These bots can provide patients with information on medication use, dosage, side-effects and interactions. They can also direct patients to additional resources, such as educational materials or support groups. Using automation in this way can save pharmacists time and improve patient satisfaction. Intervention should not just involve prescribing new medicines: educating patients on medication adherence and lifestyle will see the greatest change in their healthcare and healthcare in communities.

Read more: Lloydspharmacy will expand automation, but warns of flat funding

AI can also improve medication adherence, which is a significant problem in healthcare, as non-adherence can lead to treatment failure, increased healthcare costs and decreased quality of life for patients. Predictive analytics may be used to identify patients who are at risk of non-adherence and prompt an intervention before they miss doses. For example, AI-powered mobile apps can send patients reminders to take their medications, track their adherence, and provide incentives for compliance. These apps can also alert pharmacists when patients are not adhering to their medication regimens, allowing them to intervene before the issue becomes more significant.

Finally, AI can help pharmacists identify patients who may benefit from medication reviews. These are personalised medication reviews that can help patients optimise their medication regimens and improve their health outcomes. AI algorithms can analyse patients' records and identify those who are at risk of medication-related problems or who may benefit from medication review services. This analysis can help pharmacists prioritise their interventions and ensure patients receive the care they need.

In conclusion, AI can automate repetitive tasks, assist with medication management, personalise medication regimens, improve medication adherence and identify patients who may benefit from medication therapy management (MTM) services. These benefits can improve patient care, reduce healthcare costs and enhance pharmacists' job satisfaction.

 

Saghir Ahmed is operations and development director at GreenLife Pharma and superintendent pharmacist at Imaan Healthcare

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