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Expanding the Utility of Automation Investments
State of Pharmacy Automation 2017 - Vol. 14 No. 8 - Page #4

In the second quarter of 2017, Pharmacy Purchasing & Products polled a random, nationwide sample of health system pharmacy directors. We queried these pharmacy leaders as to their current expenditures on pharmacy automation as well as future budget projections. In addition, we asked about automation usage, pharmacy staffing levels, and future automation expansion plans. Responses were solicited via email and a total of 370 pharmacy directors replied, yielding a confidence interval of 4.93 (95% +/- 4.93) based on the population of pharmacy directors nationwide. The results of our survey are shared on the following pages.

We intentionally survey a random sample of pharmacy directors, not just readers of Pharmacy Purchasing & Products, to ensure the data reflects trends across the entirety of US hospital pharmacy practice. Given this approach, we are pleased that 83% of pharmacy directors rely on Pharmacy Purchasing & Products when researching automation purchases.

Top User Satisfaction Ratings

Automation options abound in the pharmacy marketplace and encompass products that pharmacy has a long-standing relationship with, such as ADCs and BCMA systems, as well as newer technology options, such as automated medication tracking and tray management systems. We are happy to share the vendor classes that receive pharmacy’s top ratings in terms of user satisfaction on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) (see TABLE).

Expanding Automation Utility

Once the automation research is completed, the new technology is successfully implemented, and staff is fully trained, one might be lulled into thinking a period of contentment will follow. But as we see with many established technologies, including smart pumps and ADCs, phase two is marked not by complacency; rather, it is an opportunity to focus on fully exploiting the utility of the technology at hand. Be it incorporating scanning into the cabinet stocking process, or establishing the wireless transfer of smart pump CQI data, pharmacy is looking to expand the utility of its investments.

This is a time to work closely with your vendor to fine-tune your operations and also to advocate for technology tweaks, additional interfaces, and future upgrades. These changes will improve your department’s efficiency and may ultimately benefit all of pharmacy practice.

While automation implementations are key to ensuring staff is able to work to the top of their license, expertise in managing this automation is the linchpin to progress. As such, it is concerning that allocating FTEs to automation has been challenging of late, and this year saw a precipitous drop in the number of facilities employing a dedicated pharmacy informaticist or automation specialist. Moreover, the number of FTEs allocated to informatics has declined at many facilities.

Pharmacy must actively develop opportunities for staff to expand their automation expertise and create rewarding career paths with a focus on informatics. When a department’s informatics tasks are outsourced, all too often IT problems are addressed only when they reach emergent levels. Simply reacting to problems as they arise is not a viable IT plan; pharmacy needs sufficient resources to proactively develop and manage IT needs. Similarly, we know that the level of pharmacy involvement in automation purchasing directly correlates to long-term satisfaction with the chosen technology, underscoring the need for pharmacy to be at the table during automation planning.

Click here to see Key Technologies in Hospital Pharmacy

Facility Resources

In many automation classes, there is a shrinking gap between large and small hospitals in terms of acquisitions. For example, facilities of all sizes are enjoying the benefits of CPOE and ADCs. However, significant disparity persists in the IV room. While many pharmacies are focused on complying with USP <800>, automation purchases for this area, such as IV workflow systems and automated compounding devices, remain concentrated in the largest facilities with high compounding volumes. In turn, the additional safety of bar coding and gravimetrics for these often high-risk products are also concentrated in the largest facilities. Facility size should not preclude access to proven technologies that deliver patient safety. Perhaps this is an opportunity for vendors to tailor IV safety tools for smaller facilities with less intensive compounding volumes.

For Pharmacy, By Pharmacy

Not only is The State of Pharmacy Automation survey designed by pharmacists for pharmacists, but without pharmacy’s input, it would not exist. As you peruse the pages that follow, please consider all the pharmacy leaders who took time out of their busy schedules to complete the survey and include their practices in the aggregate data. From their commitment, you can benchmark your operation against pharmacy practice as a whole, and against like-sized facilities. We are endlessly grateful to all of our survey participants, and hope you will join them in completing the survey next year.

If there are additional data points that would be useful to you, please share your thoughts with us. You can email With your contributions, PP&P will continue to serve as a conduit for the novel approaches, best practices, and simple solutions generated by pharmacists for the betterment of all pharmacy practice.

Deanne Halvorsen is the editorial director for Pharmacy Purchasing & Products.

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