AI Can Improve Business Operations in Community Pharmacies and Benefit Patients

Total Pharmacy JournalTotal Pharmacy December 2023
Volume 1
Issue 5

Ravi Patel, PharmD, MBA, MS, discusses how artificial intelligence can be a benefit to both patients and community pharmacies.

Ravi Patel, PharmD, MBA, MS, lead innovation advisor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy, sat down with Drug Topics at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) 2023 Convention and Expo to discuss how artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to benefit community pharmacies and the industry as a whole, as well as how it can help patients and improve operational efficiency.

Drug Topics: How do you see these technologies benefiting patients and the pharmacy industry as a whole?

Ravi Patel, PharmD, MBA, MS: AI can help benefit patients as a learning platform, maybe not a 100% accurate platform, but rather it can help understand, “Am I asking the right questions?” A patient can ask something like a language learning model, “How do I go about reaching out to my pharmacy to see if they offer vaccines?” When I think about larger business opportunities, making our current workflow more efficient. Anytime we think about a repetitive task, there's a really unique opportunity for artificial intelligence and technology as a whole. I have a great colleague who often uses the phrase, ‘digital where possible, human when necessary.’ The more we start to understand our human needs of our patients, and what our pharmacies are capable of, the better we can understand where technologies can benefit them.

Drug Topics: How do you think AI can be integrated into community pharmacies to improve operational efficiency and support business growth while maintaining high-quality patient care?

Patel: AI in a community pharmacy can apply in places we already expect it. Instead of using a static IVR system in which you have to press a button to navigate a complicated phone menu, we might see artificial intelligence become more of a conversational platform, not only being able to direct if and when a human is incorporated, but maybe even able to offer some of that information alone. When a patient calls in and says, “I would like a refill for X, Y and Z,” right now, we have a very human oriented process of processing that refill. With AI, we can see more of those repetitive tasks accomplished through semantic understanding, knowing what those words mean, and being able to implement it within our dispensing systems or our workflows.

When it comes to being prospective, we might see information about the data that already exists in our community pharmacies, dispensing data, what times of day we might be most busy versus less busy. And patterns that we as humans may not understand can be recognized by AI to perhaps influence and make more efficient our inventory ordering, how we look at staffing, or even helping us come up with new ideas when we take a year and review or try to come up with goals for the next quarter.

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