The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the healthcare industry, including pharmacies.  During the pandemic, more than half of hospital pharmacists increased their number of responsibilities.  Hospitals relied on compounding pharmacies to provide them with necessary disinfectants, medications, and hand sanitizers when needed.  In March 2020, prescription demand increased 15% across the U.S., which also contributed to greater staff burnout.  

Staffing-wise, the pandemic produced conditions that increased burnout that has caused healthcare workers to retire at a faster rate than new recruits being hired.  In fact, more than 6.5 million healthcare workers are expected to leave by 2026 with only 2 million new workers available to fill their positions.  80% of pharmacies are currently struggling to fill job vacancies.  72% of healthcare facilities tried to increase wages while 56% provided more flexible work hours to attract more workers, but these attempts were affected by money issues due to rising costs but falling revenue.  Factors such as implementing more safety measures and getting P.P.E. as well as less procedures and new prescriptions have contributed to revenue issues. 

Drug shortages have also wasted time and money as 86% of hospital pharmacists experienced increasing drug shortages because of the pandemic.  Albuterol inhalers, sedatives, and anesthetics are some of the medications that are in short supply.  94% of pharmacies adapted their pharmacy supply chains to current needs (including products, acquisitions, and inventory), but utilizing more manual processes has slowed the workflow for many pharmacies.  

Pharmacy automation technologies have been able to help hospitals and pharmacies provide needed care without being severely overtaken by the pandemic.  Automation has helped with functions such as tracking medical history, sorting pills, and monitoring narcotics.  Automation can also prevent medication errors that result in adverse drug events.  Technology reduces the opportunities for human error and therefore enhances patient care.  

Pharmacy technicians can pick up to 120 medications per hour with each medication costing 15 cents.  HOwever, automated dispensing can pick up to 700 medications per hour with each medication costing just two cents.  Efficiency and speed can be experienced from medication management software as well.  This technology can help track inventory so that medication can be dispensed appropriately, recalled drugs can be located with ease and disposed of, and available drugs can be moved to locations where they are in higher demand so they can be bought before they expire.  This helps reduce the 16% of hospital pharmaceutical inventory that is typically wasted.  

The pandemic has shown how helpful operational technology can be to the success of central pharmacies, increasing the global market for pharmacy automation.

 

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