Rethinking Pharmacy Education in the Era of Artificial Intelligence

Drug Topics JournalDrug Topics September 2023
Volume 167
Issue 08

As AI becomes more prevalent, how must the pharmacy world change how it learns?

Despite the huge impact artificial intelligence (AI) is having on the world—including the pharmacy world—the technology is still infrequently covered the course of pharmacy education—with some exceptions.

For instance, at the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy, researchers are using AI tools to address the nation’s health care challenges, from developing new cancer drugs to stemming the opioid epidemic. The University has also beefed up their education around AI for students enrolled in the pharmacy program.

Similarly, the University of California’s pharmacy program has added lessons in AI to its syllabus in recent years.

As AI becomes more prevalent in health care, pharmacy schools will need to introduce AI in their curriculum to prepare students to effectively utilize these tools in their practice. This could include courses that impart an understanding of how AI tools work, how to interpret AI outputs, and the ethical considerations surrounding the use of AI.

“Interestingly, the topic of AI doesn’t always get the attention it deserves in the curriculum,” said Sam Brackett, PharmD, director of operations at Altruix and a 2016 graduate from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in 2016. “This gap is a little concerning as AI has the potential to reshape the pharmacy industry.”

Pharmacy schools must address AI in their curriculum to equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills; the curriculum should cover topics such as AI fundamentals, data ethics, privacy regulations, and cybersecurity.

During his interactions with students at industry conferences, Brackett often encourages them to pursue knowledge in AI and data analysis alongside their pharmacy studies.

“Embracing this dual skill set, they can make more informed decisions and better understand how AI can enhance patient care, safety, and privacy,” Brackett said. “Pharmacy students should be preparing themselves for a future where AI is integrated into their practice by developing an understanding of how this technology works and its potential applications in healthcare. They should also be familiarizing themselves with the ethical considerations that come with using AI and understanding how to use it responsibly.”

Bryan Shaw, PharmD, senior director of pharmacy analytics and informatics for healthcare service company Vizient, noted that currently, AI is not commonly addressed in pharmacy didactic curricula across the country, though many schools are actively looking into how these concepts best fit within their programs. It is also being actively discussed in many large forums to assess its potential role within future accreditation standards.

“Research is ongoing across [the health care industry] to establish where AI is most applicable and effective, while maintaining safe and ethical patient centered care, as its emergence is still quite recent in the field,” he said.

In preparation for the continued evolution and integration of AI in health care, students should take the time to understand the basic concepts at play and how they interact with the pharmacy profession.”

“The most pressing concepts are the ethical and legal consequences of leveraging AI in healthcare and how it could directly and indirectly impact our patients,” Shaw said. “As a profession, pharmacists are life-long learners, and it would be prudent for us to ensure we understand the implications of something that has the potential to greatly influence the care we deliver patients across the world.”

But as with any new technology, challenges exist: Knowledge gaps often exist aroundunderstanding AI concepts, including machine learning, deep learning, and natural language processing. Additionally, pharmacy students may lack training in data science and programming, which are key to leveraging AI.

Open access to AI technology platforms—such as ChatGPT—is still in the early phases, leading to some pharmacy schools discouraging the use of AI capabilities due to potential negative impact it may have on student learning.

In preparation of utilizing AI, pharmacy students should understand basic AI concepts and its applications in pharmacy and health care at large. This can be achieved by taking interdisciplinary courses that blend technology and healthcare. They also need hands-on experience with AI tools, possibly through internships, workshops, or projects.

Another important area of study is the ethical considerations and regulations surrounding the use of AI in health care, including patient privacy and data security.

Pharmacy schools are where training occurs for emerging cohorts of new pharmacists. These pharmacists must be up to date on these trends and equipped to perform evolving job functions, and AI is a big part of that. Pharmacy schools can assist students with their learning by incorporating technology solutions in their curriculum, as well as educating students on AI.

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