Three Ways Technology Has Changed Pharmacy

Oct 24, 2016 10:00:00 AM · by David Kushan

The pharmacy industry has changed drastically over the past decade and technological advances are a major reason why. In the past decade alone, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of pharmacy technology advancements as pharmacy IT becomes increasingly central to how drugs are administered to patients.

One of the key ways in which technology has positively impacted pharmacy is by helping to minimize preventable medication errors and therefore, increasing the likelihood of successful patient outcomes. Here are three specific examples of ways in which technology has changed, and continues to change pharmacy.

1. Automated Dispensing Cabinets

Improving patient safety is critical in any healthcare setting. One of the various ways technology is enabling pharmacists to ensure patient care is at its highest possible level is through the use of automated dispensing cabinets.

Automated dispensing cabinets (ADCs) are decentralized medication-distribution systems designed to provide computer-controlled storage, dispensing ,and tracking of drugs at the point of care in patient-care units. First introduced in the late 1980s, ADC technology was slow to take hold but as of 2008, over 80 percent of hospitals had adopted ADC systems to take the place of manual floor stock systems or medication carts.

ADC benefits are numerous. Here are some of the top ones:

  • Better access to drugs in patient-care areas.
  • Electronic tracking of controlled substances and other drugs.
  • Improved inventory control through tracking.
  • Interface with pharmacy computer to support clinical review and timely ordering.
  • Automated restocking through the use of barcodes
  • Minimize drug diversion

Many studies have shown ADCs to be effective in improving patient outcomes through minimizing instances of dispensing errors, reducing errors in drug administration, reducing instances of missing doses, and fewer drug-administration errors in patient units.

While a few studies identified mixed results for ADCs, it was also determined that outcomes could be positively affected by using ADCs in conjunction with patient profiling practices, overrides, and following other recommended guidelines. And as with any healthcare IT project, you can increase your chances of a successful implementation by identifying key stakeholders and getting them onboard early in leadership roles.

2. CPOE (Computerized Physician Order Entry)

Computerized physician order entry (CPOE) is a system that enables healthcare providers to use computers to enter medical orders electronically in inpatient and ambulatory settings. The system was designed to replace traditional methods of ordering medication such as paper, telephone, and fax.

Using CPOE systems, providers are able to electronically enter medication, laboratory, admission, radiology, referral, and procedure orders. One of the primary ways in which CPOE positively influences successful patient outcomes is by minimizing medication errors through ensuring legible orders.

CPOE systems are particularly effective when used in tandem with clinical decision support systems (CDSS). Used together, these two types of systems offer providers real-time support for diagnosis, treatment and improving patient care, while reducing errors and costs.

3. Barcode Med Administration

Barcode medication administration (BCMA) is a technological system that pairs the implementation of information technology solutions with barcoding. BCMA was devised to reduce medication errors by bringing users into compliance with the “Five Rights” of medication administration: Right patient, right dose, right time, right route, right medication.

As in the case of automated dispensing cabinets, BCMA adoption has progressed gradually in the United States. Part of the reason for the slow adoption of BCMAs may stem from the workflow modifications, changes in culture, attitude and practices such systems require to implement.

Chances for successful BCMA implementation can be increased by taking into account such factors as the placement, accessibility, compatibility and durability of equipment used in the implementation process. Proper training and “go-live” preparation is also tantamount in initiating a successful implementation.

Looking Forward

Although the history of pharmacy technology dates back decades, we have seen a significant acceleration in the adoption of such technologies in the past decade. As new pharmacy technology advancements continue to emerge, we are likely to see more instances of technology impacting the way pharmacists do their jobs and ultimately, increasing their ability to provide successful patient outcomes.

Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) offers a wide range of benefits, but it comes with challenges as well. Download our "Pharmacist’s Perspective: Examining CPOE Future Challenges and Current Benefits" white paper for more information.

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