Thom Doherty is Executive Vice President of Quality, Process Improvement, and Strategic Planning for ARxIUM, developer of pharmacy automation solutions and the Pharmacy 4.0 initiative, based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Buffalo Grove, IL
It's time for pharmacies to move into the future: Industry 4.0.
Next-generation production technologies can help improve error rates and delivery times, while reducing costs and staff in pharmacies.
In health systems, increased medication safety, production, and regulatory demands are changing how pharmacies operate. They are being pressured to decrease errors, delivery times, costs, and staff. To better address emerging challenges, more health systems are centralizing and consolidating their pharmacies to provide greater economies of scale and efficiencies that improve patient care and the bottom line.
The intended benefits of consolidating operations may not be realized without incorporating automated next-generation systems that work together. Many pharmacies are now looking at ways to incorporate manufacturing and supply chain advancements. This latest development parallels another emerging trend, Industry 4.0.
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Industry 4.0 is automation and data exchange in manufacturing, which includes the Internet of Things (the network being created between devices, vehicles, and other items that can collect and exchange data), cloud computing, and cyberphysical systems which combine automation, software, and manual operations to monitor and react in real-time to production demands. These systems provide consistent feedback to adjust production processes and better uses capital, staff, and raw materials.
Given the success of Industry 4.0 and increased consolidation of pharmacy operations, health-system pharmacies are starting to adopt these concepts in what can be called Pharmacy 4.0. This is a seamless convergence of clinical pharmacy, central production, and automation advancements into cyberphysical systems.
Pharmacy 4.0 is not an application of best practices, but an implementation of automation and “next practices” from other industries to solve complex challenges. A great example of applying next practices is Henry Ford’s development of the assembly line for large-scale manufacturing. Instead of creating a new concept, Ford was inspired by practices used in meat-packing houses and by continuous-flow production methods in flour mills, breweries, and canneries.
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Pharmacy 4.0 focuses on system operability, information transparency, technical assistance, and decentralized decision-making capabilities to meet growing patient care and medication fulfillment demands. The benefits include improved medication safety, quality, and output, reduced pharmacy costs and waste, and increased flexible medication production.
As pharmacies consolidate, Pharmacy 4.0 uses industrial applications to eliminate duplication of equipment, medication inventory, and more. It also provides increased pharmacy optimization and implementation of good manufacturing practice efforts.
Pharmacy 4.0 can apply to workflow software and high-volume filling, inventory management, and IV compounding systems. Features can include upgraded analytic and data warehousing capabilities to review pharmacy utilization and other operational aspects.
Next-generation technologies can also integrate high-volume medication systems with improved pharmacy software to provide connected workflow and inventory management capabilities for central fill pharmacies and processing facilities. The systems can monitor medication consumption in real-time, and automate recommendations to modify pharmacy production demands.
Health-systems pharmacies should continue to leverage the latest industrial advancements and next practices to help solve emerging challenges.