Maximize the Utility of Pharmacy Automation

August 2021 - Vol.18 No. 8 - Page #4
Category: Outpatient Pharmacy Automation

Upheaval has been the operational constant for the past 18 months and signs indicate this is likely to be an ongoing trend, although hopefully at a lower intensity level. Most pharmacy directors have dedicated significant time to dealing with the downstream disruptions resulting from staffing shortages, remote workers, product shortages, and limitations to on-site vendor and consultant meetings. In these turbulent times, the steadfast value provided by dependable automation is irreplaceable. In recognition of this, the past year has been defined by a strong commitment throughout pharmacy to maximize the utility of existing technology.

Survey Design

In the second quarter of 2021, PP&P polled a random, nationwide sample of health system pharmacy directors. We asked these leaders to share their current expenditures on pharmacy automation as well as their short- and long-term projections for ongoing pharmacy automation spending. In addition, we asked about staffing and medication distribution models, automation implementations, vendor performance, and future implementation plans.

Despite today’s incredibly trying times, pharmacy leaders responded and shared their data, thereby enabling other pharmacy directors to benchmark their departmental automation efforts against like facilities. Responses were solicited via email with a total of 365 responses, yielding a confidence interval of 4.98% (95% +/- 4.95) based on the population of pharmacy directors nationwide. With gratitude, we salute those pharmacy directors who continue to uphold the tradition of the State of Pharmacy Automation.

As always, we intentionally survey a random sample of pharmacy directors to ensure the data reflect trends across the entirety of US hospital pharmacy practice, not just readers of PP&P. As such, we are quite pleased that 80% of pharmacy directors rely on PP&P when researching automation purchases.

Pharmacy leadership continues to cite ADCs, smart pumps, CPOE, BCMA, unit dose packaging systems, and temperature monitoring automation as key to their operations.

Click here to view a larger version of this chart.

Maximizing Technology Investments

Just as operating a high-performance pharmacy requires that all staff members work to the top of their licenses, the utility of pharmacy automation must also be leveraged to its zenith to achieve and maintain optimal performance. There are multiple ways pharmacy leadership is working toward this goal. For example, an increasing number of facilities are linking their smart pumps to the BCMA system and incorporating patient-specific programming. Pharmacy leaders continue to increase the capacity of their highest-rated systems, including adding storage to existing ADCs and expanding medication tray management systems.

Notably, these efforts are not limited solely to the largest health systems with the best funding. In fact, mid-sized facilities are often driving implementation activity. Historically, purchases of carousels and robots to automate drug storage and delivery were enjoyed primarily by facilities with 400+ beds; now, this technology is expanding to mid-sized facilities that are looking to improve inventory control. The same circumstances previously held true for automated compounding devices, which were concentrated in large academic medical centers. But with an expanding focus on automating the cleanroom, mid-sized facilities are now commonly reviewing automated compounders and IV workflow systems for purchase. The use of CSTDs also is increasing across facilities of all sizes. While compounding robot utilization remains largely concentrated among academic medical centers, its use is expanding beyond the first shift, and as user experience grows, it typically requires fewer staff to operate.

As it became increasingly difficult this year to source products in bar coded unit dose, more facilities purchased tabletop repackagers and utilized manual repackaging systems to ensure medications reached the units in safe, scannable formats.

Most pharmacy directors (59%) are considering the addition of cutting-edge technologies to their operations. The leading contenders are AI systems, virtual assistants in patient rooms to access drug information, and drone medication delivery. Other cutting-edge options being explored include block chain technology, remote in-home monitoring of vitals, robotic medication delivery, and RFID for oncology medications.

Vendor Satisfaction Rankings

Peer assessments can be instructive when choosing investment opportunities for your automation budget. While most pharmacy product classes receive strong user satisfaction rankings, the top-rated product classes based on user experience are:

1. Automated Dispensing Cabinets

2. Medication Tray Management

3. Automated Drug Storage and Retrieval (ie, carousels and robots)

4. Temperature Monitoring Systems

5. Automated Compounding Devices

The top-rated categories encompass both widely implemented technologies, such as ADCs, as well as categories experiencing adoption growth, including medication tray management and drug storage and retrieval systems.


On the pages of PP&P, you can read pharmacists’ reviews of technology, learn how other facilities are maximizing their automation implementations, and stay abreast of new vendors and technologies entering the marketplace. Armed with lessons learned from your peers, the process for creating the pharmacy of the future is not so daunting. As you make your case internally for new automation acquisitions, feel free to utilize the data from the pages herein. This year’s slides are available at

Deanne Halvorsen is the editorial director and founding partner of Ridgewood Medical Media, publisher of Pharmacy Purchasing & Products and MedicalLab Management. She can be reached at


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