Artificial intelligence can be a key tool for streamlining pharmacy workflows.
As more independent pharmacists discover the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and begin incorporating AI tools into their practices, they are learning that AI can be instrumental in streamlining the pharmacy.
“AI has the potential to dramatically streamline pharmacy workflows,” said Hayley Burgess, PharmD, chief clinical officer of VigiLanz, a clinical software surveillance company. “In my time as a health system pharmacy leader, I used advanced technology with rule-based algorithms to standardize our pharmacist workflows, using our local clinical protocols as the foundation. This allowed our pharmacists to spend more time on patient care instead of on administrative tasks.”
By doing so, Burgess’ pharmacy teams were able to reduce coded adverse drug events by 40% and reduce overall drug spend by 10% by incorporating standard and prioritized approaches.
“For the community pharmacy, there is great potential to optimize staffing and fill-time efficiency to promote pharmacists’ clinical skills and provide a better patient experience,” she said. “Using advanced technology and data intelligence in this space is closer than we realize—it is here.”
The possibilities for AI in a community pharmacy are vast. Refill management, identifying patients for new clinical, vaccine or disease state management programs, ongoing surveillance in high-risk disease state or drug monitoring (for example, subtle HbA1C changes in diabetic patients or combined changes in signs and symptoms that a human may not immediately recognize as disease state regression or medication toxicity).
Leslie Lotano-Saba RPh, vice president of pharmacy solutions at global management and technology consulting firm AArete, noted that thus far, rules-based AI and automation, such as robotic process automation or RPA, have been instrumental in automating repeat tasks in a process.
“This has been leveraged not only by pharmacies but also by many industries,” she said. “New advancements in Generative AI can infuse cognitive abilities to turbo-charge and replicate human-like intuition into the process. This enhancement from manual process to cognitive process is what is going to cause the key difference in the pharmacy industry.”
Through AI, predictive analytics can forecast busy periods, helping optimize staff levels. Machine learning can also analyze patterns in prescription filling and pick-up times, providing insights that can reduce fill times and minimize patient wait time. An AI system can also organize the sequence of prescription preparations based on their urgency and the availability of medication in stock, making the whole process more efficient.
Joy Liu, CEO of Plenful, which offers an AI-enabled platform to pharmacies, noted pharmacies face significant challenges such as pharmacy benefit manager clawbacks, DIR fees, 340B changes, and macroeconomic pressures, leading owners to focus more now than ever on optimizing their operations and doing more with less.
“Forward-thinking leaders are leveraging AI-powered tools like document optical character recognition and large language modeling to eliminate manual administrative work from their technicians and clinicians,” Lie said. “These technologies scale, adapt, and enhance efficiency over time, automating tasks with greater speed and accuracy.”
For independent pharmacies that manage front-end sales in addition to the prescription counter, AI can support inventory management and product pricing, incorporating competitive information. This will help streamline the pharmacy favorably.
Gretchen Brummel, PharmD, pharmacy executive at Vizient, noted that pharmacists can leverage metrics from business activity and customize staffing shifts to accommodate surges/busy times through AI tools.
“With patient care and refill patterns, work can be optimized to optimize fill time and shorten patient waiting,” she said. “Creative solutions can come from this in terms of float positions, on-call staff, off (typical) hour activity, and flexing filling activity. Pharmacists can also implement automated replenishment or ordering systems.”
The biggest challenge is how a pharmacy accesses and implements the AI solution.
“Do you create the solution yourself or do you find a vendor to provide the service you are looking for, or is willing to work with you to create it?” Brummel said. “For the latter, you then need to assess the ROI to ensure your investing in the project will provide value to your business.”
Some pharmacists are using Chat GPT to evaluate the viability of new business models before implementation.
Pharmacists have a long history of leveraging new technologies and automation to improve efficiency such as bar code verification, automated counting devices, robotics, and automated refill request systems. AI is just the latest, greatest tool and it comes down to leveraging tools to streamline work and improve efficiencies.