In the future, technology should intelligently support the changing role of the community pharmacist to bring benefit to patients, says pharmacist and P3’s columnist Noel Wicks

One thing will define the world of community pharmacy in 2017: technology. The use of technology certainly isn’t something new to pharmacy, of course, but it seems to me that the explosion of apps, devices, dispensing robots and e-services now being offered has grown exponentially in the last 12 months.

Where we once had too little choice of technology in community pharmacy, we are now overwhelmed by a variety of different solutions – all of which look capable of solving something or other we couldn’t do before. I’m thinking of the latest in repeat ordering, private prescriptions, medicine reminders and stock ordering.

I’m certainly no Luddite when it comes to tech. Indeed, I still have my Amstrad PenPad from the early 90s… one of the very first handwriting recognition personal organisers; out at about the same time as pagers and the early mobile phones were becoming mainstream.

Despite the 20 years that have gone by since then, I’m not sure we’re much further forward with handwriting recognition, or with speech-to-text for that matter. If you have ever used one of the latest in-car systems that claim to be able to send a narrated text message, then you’ll know that it’s lottery type odds that you’ll get that right first time. In fact, you’ll probably find it quicker and less annoying to pull over and type the thing by hand.

I guess my point is that – in my experience at least – new technology often fails to deliver all that it claims, and while we’ve recently had a lot of revolution in health-related tech, this is all likely to need a degree of further evolution over time to become really user-friendly.

It also needs integration to work properly for us. I don’t want to have separate systems and bits of kit for each different element of my pharmacy. Ideally, I want it all linked together so that all the data and the functionality are shared across platforms. Many of the things I’ve had across my desk, while great in concept, involve double entry of data and separate management and a certain amount of housekeeping.

All of this just means more work and more systems to keep on top of.

The real trick will be to have technology in the pharmacy that is able to do what we need with little or minimal additional work. This will intelligently shadow our current activities and actively support the changing role of the pharmacist. This might be in recording outcomes, predicting workload, managing patient marketing, logistics or any one of a thousand things that technology can enhance in the pharmacy. If we can crack that, then we really will be able to unleash the potential of the pharmacy – and, what’s more, we’ll be able to show it.

I’ve no doubt that in another 20 years’ time many of us will have a piece of health tech kit or software – just like my Amstrad PenPad – buried in a dusty draw somewhere.

Whenever you come across it, you’ll be reminded of what it was like back in the day before things all really evolved into the fantastic system you now have that fully supports and informs patient care by the thriving community pharmacy team, underpins the finances of a successful and secure business model and works seamlessly to help monitor and improve health and wellbeing for patients across integrated and cooperative healthcare sectors – and so much more… well, at least I hope you will.

  • Noel Wicks is a pharmacist and independent pharmacy group owner.

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