Leverage Technology for Success in Independent Pharmacy

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Ravi Patel, PharmD, MBA, MS, discusses the role of artificial intelligence in 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) is currently being utilized in pharmacies, areas where community pharmacists can look to utilize AI, and more.

Drug Topics: Can you provide some examples of how artificial intelligence is currently being utilized in healthcare and pharmacy practice, and what kind of impact it has had on patient care, operational efficiency, and business growth?

Ravi Patel, PharmD, MBA, MS: Artificial Intelligence is such a wide concept that I like to look at it as how can our friends and our computers and technology help us humans understand things that we might not be able to immediately perceive. An example of artificial intelligence, machine learning, large data application in healthcare, has been used for quite some time in the world of billing for hospital records and the way that our hospital records are set up, the way a narrative note, me talking to somebody, then being used to create some sort of objective measure of what can I build for, had been in practice for more than a decade. Only now do we see artificial intelligence becoming so accessible, not only to the technologists and the people building software and hardware to make our lives easier, but you and I as pharmacists, as our student learners, and our patients have more access to these technologies than ever before. And we see that in a few different ways changing what I can do to learn about something? Can this technology extend my current abilities into things I might not have known before? If I ask a drug research questioner a drug-drug interaction, can artificial intelligence identify a pattern that would say “Oh, if you're asking about this drug-drug interaction, here's other information that might be important or relevant to you.”

So, even if we don't see artificial intelligence in healthcare directly, we've seen it in recommendations from online shopping or using a map to find our way. Now we're seeing it in health care in perhaps supporting clinical decision support systems, or helping us understand what data don't we have when we're trying to make a decision that other cases might have had before.

Drug Topics: For community pharmacists who may be considering adopting AI tools, what are the key opportunities and areas where AI can be most beneficial? Are there specific use cases or applications you would recommend exploring?

Patel: One of the best things I think technology allows us to do is to be better humans. That means for the benefits that it offers, there's also some of the challenges it offers too. If I know as a community pharmacist, I am a really strong communicator, I know what it means to talk to my patients, but I know that setting pen to paper or writing that email or coming up with a note can be very challenging to start from scratch, I would have to think about this new technology or really artificial intelligence as a whole to say, “Can it help me strengthen my strengths and address my weaknesses?”

If I was to think of how a community pharmacist might think about using artificial intelligence, “Being able to draft something can be very hard for me. Let me work with a tool that can create the first draft of a message or the first draft of a letter when I'm reaching out to a new physician group to help describe what I offer at my pharmacy.” Being able to build on my strengths, so “What do I want to most clearly communicate and address.” This weakness of it's really hard to make that first draft is one example. I like to say it lets us be humans a little bit better and it turns the attention rather than focusing on the technology, focusing on the question of what problem can it help me solve better.

Drug Topics: In your presentation, you mentioned that AI can help save time and unlock new opportunities. Could you delve deeper into the practical aspects of implementing AI in a pharmacy and how pharmacists can effectively integrate AI into their daily workflow?

Patel: Using AI in your daily workflow is as simple as asking yourself “What am I doing on a daily basis?” Once I know where my gaps are, do I need help coming up with marketing or communication ideas? Or do I want to learn more about a new topic, like setting up a Google business profile? When you start asking yourself what those questions are and what problems you want to solve, you'll start to find where those opportunities fit into your workflow.

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