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Lagging behind the techno revolution


Lagging behind the techno revolution

With the planned launch of electronic prescriptions in Northern Ireland still several years away, Richard Addy wonders if it’s time for the profession to push beyond its comfort zone

I have recently been battling a mild social media addiction. I have never been into Facebook or Instagram, but somehow Linkedin has got a hold on me. Why is it that I’ve been checking in compulsively? It’s because of the new pharmacy technology that I’ve been discovering!

I’m from Belfast. We don’t have a fancy pharmacy show in Northern Ireland and I feel like the latest pharmacy tech has been passing me by… until now.

The software scene in pharmacy is burgeoning. Titan, Pharmsmart, Pro Delivery Manager, Lopic, Pharmacy Mentor, Drug Comparison, Clinic2Go, PharmData, Drug Tariff Pro, RxMind, and more. All of the aforementioned were started by pharmacists with a desire to drag pharmacy into the modern era.

The clever clogs behind these new solutions represent enthusiasm and ingenuity in our profession. They are an inspiration to me and I’m sure to others who wish to see our profession evolve and thrive.

Pharmacy hardware is also rapidly advancing. Prescription lockers, information display screens and robotic machines have all been catching my eye. Dispensary robots are now built for all sizes of pharmacy – not just the gigantic hubs that the big chains are building.

I have first-hand experience of the advantages of a dispensary robot. Our machine was installed two years ago. We are now seeing improvements in efficiency and accuracy that are paying dividends, allowing staff to spend more time on new services such as Pharmacy First. The technology out there is impressive, and it has certainly won me over. However, I have noticed that some pharmacies appear to be uninterested in joining the tech revolution. Why is this? Here are my best guesses:

Firstly, some pharmacy owners are not convinced that the new devices can do what their inventors claim they can do. The pharmacy industry has seen its fair share of dodgy technology in the past – for example, software systems that hadn’t been as thoroughly bug tested as they should have been. Hardware has also had its faults. I’ve heard horror stories about pharmacies with new robots lying dormant for many months before being utilised.

I do think that the current standard of tech is much improved. I’ve been researching the products I’ve seen to assess their suitability for my own business. The newer applications have become a lot more user friendly, which is of paramount importance given that pharmacy staff may have a wide range of technical abilities.

The second reason for contractor hesitancy is the financial uncertainty that we are all currently facing. Many pharmacy owners do want to invest in technology. The problem is that it feels like the safer option to stick with old fashioned methods over an additional subscription. The outlay required for new technology creates anxiety in pharmacy owners. This is especially true if you’re worried about whether your heavily clawed-back drug reimbursement will cover your costs at the end of the month.

The third is perhaps my most controversial point, but I’ll make it nonetheless. Could it be that pharmacy is a profession that appeals to the Luddite personality type? I have no empirical data to back this up, but I believe that it does. Luddite folk are a strange breed. One part savvy, two parts cynical. Luddites don’t want to waste their time with new things that have not been proven to work, and they would prefer not to change what they know already works well.

Luddites are not always wrong in this cautious approach. I would, however, encourage them to embrace the modernisation that will inevitably occur. I’m a believer that if you take calculated risks and step outside of your comfort zone, you will reap the rewards.

This brings me nicely to the topic of electronic prescriptions in Northern Ireland (sorry, I mean the lack of electronic prescriptions in Northern Ireland). Now, I’m not saying that my esteemed colleagues in NI’s Strategic Planning and Performance Group are Luddites themselves. I’m saying that when the grapevine tells me that the planned date for electronic prescription (EPT) launch in NI is 2032, my suspicions are heightened. How can it be that technology that was invented almost 20 years ago in England is still eight years away in NI?

NI is at times a little bit behind the curve, but I hadn’t realised that we are still living in 1996.

EPT has saved time and money for patients, GP surgeries and pharmacies in Great Britain. It will be almost universally welcomed over here, yet we’re still at least two World Cups and Olympic Games away from the code being cracked?

Okay, I’m being facetious. I know that EPT isn’t a small change for NI. I’m also aware that the English EPS system isn’t perfect, and it needs to be improved. However, I’m sure that if we got some of our brightest and best minds on this task, and if we pushed outside of our comfort zone, even just a little, perhaps the target could be a little bit more… ambitious?

Richard Addy is managing director of Nipharm Pharmacies in Belfast

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