Walgreens Turns to Prescription-Filling Robots to Free Up Pharmacists


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Boots Alliance Inc. is popping to robots to ease workloads at drugstores because it grapples with a nationwide scarcity of pharmacists and pharmacist technicians. 

The nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain is organising a community of automated, centralized drug-filling facilities that might fill a metropolis block. Rows of yellow robotic arms bend and rotate as they kind and bottle multicolored capsules, sending them down conveyor belts. The corporate says the setup cuts pharmacist workloads by not less than 25% and can save Walgreens greater than $1 billion a 12 months.

The last word aim: give pharmacists extra time to supply medical companies corresponding to vaccinations, affected person outreach and prescribing of some medicines. These companies are a comparatively new and rising income stream for drugstores, that are more and more in a position to invoice insurers for some scientific companies.

“This frees up the capability of our most expert professionals,” stated Rina Shah, a gaggle vice chairman overseeing pharmacy technique at Walgreens. “We checked out our system and stated, ‘Why are we filling prescriptions the best way we did in 1995?’”

Covid-19 elevated the calls for on pharmacies as they expanded into testing and vaccinations, placing strain on workers and making a shortfall of pharmacists that many chains have struggled to fill. Walgreens has lowered pharmacy hours at a 3rd of its almost 9,000 U.S. shops, and in some markets is providing signing bonuses of as much as $75,000 to fill pharmacist jobs.

The facilities make use of wherever from dozens to lots of of employees, who oversee the method or deal with prescriptions for medicines that may’t be stuffed by robotic, corresponding to inhalers used to deal with bronchial asthma.

Prescriptions which are time-sensitive or for managed substances are nonetheless stuffed by pharmacists in shops. These stuffed on the automated facilities are delivered to shops by

AmerisourceBergen Corp.’s

wholesale distribution unit alongside shipments of medicines which are sorted and stuffed in shops. 

Extra drugstores, together with smaller chains and unbiased pharmacies, need to automate and centralize drug success, stated Alecia Lashier, chief automation officer at iA, a supplier of pharmacy automation software program and know-how. Walgreens is a majority investor in Indianapolis-based iA and makes use of the corporate’s know-how in its success facilities.

“Small chains up via the bigger chains are all dealing with the labor scarcity in addition to elevated demand for companies,” Ms. Lashier stated. She stated the corporate operates about 1,000 success websites within the U.S. for chains encompassing lots of of entities, which embody hospitals in addition to pharmacies. Prescription quantity has roughly doubled from earlier than the pandemic, she stated. “They’re seeking to take away these routine duties from shops.”

CVS Well being Corp.

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, the most important U.S. drug chain by variety of areas, employs robotics to streamline success in shops, a spokesman stated. He declined to say whether or not CVS has or is wanting so as to add centralized operations. 

Robotic arms shifting prescription bottles on the meeting line.

At Walgreens, the operations had been within the works earlier than a scarcity of pharmacy employees turned acute through the pandemic. The corporate paid $450 million for its stake in iA. A spokeswoman declined to reveal the price of the success facilities. 

Walgreens’s Ms. Shah stated that in some instances, automated filling permits time for pharmacists to finish primary duties that they couldn’t get executed earlier than. 

For areas with more healthy staffing ranges, she stated, pharmacists are in a position to present an array of medical companies that usher in income and enhance affected person well being, specifically encouraging clients with continual circumstances to higher adjust to their medical regimens. The corporate goals to ultimately fill 40% to 50% of all prescriptions at centralized websites.

Pharmacist Adolf Makia, who works at a Walgreens in North Richland Hills, Texas, that’s serviced by the Dallas success middle, stated the setup has minimize his workload by about 40%. He spends the newly open time calling sufferers who’re beginning new medical regimens and serving to join sufferers with physicians working in a VillageMD medical workplace that adjoins the pharmacy. Walgreens final 12 months acquired a majority stake within the VillageMD primary-care community as a part of a broader effort to rework itself as a healthcare supplier.

Adolf Makia, a pharmacist in North Richland Hills, Texas, stated the Northlake success middle has minimize his workload, giving him extra time to name sufferers.

“We are able to do the issues we’re purported to be doing professionally,” Dr. Makia stated. He stated that generally when he calls the affected person for the primary time, they assume he’s a telemarketer as a result of receiving a name from a pharmacist is surprising. “This course of improves compliance; we’ve got them selecting up medicines on time; we will have one-on-one conversations,” he stated.

Walgreens’s Ms. Shah stated the corporate experimented with automated success earlier than, as the elemental know-how isn’t new. However earlier than the pandemic, there wasn’t a way of urgency to pursue automation. Past filling prescriptions and answering buyer questions, pharmacists had little different calls for on their time. The know-how has additionally grow to be faster and extra environment friendly, she stated.


Are robots a superb answer for the pharmacist scarcity? Why or why not? Be part of the dialog beneath.

“We discovered that after we freed up the pharmacists’ time and there weren’t reimbursable companies, there was nothing for them to do within the retailer,” she stated. 

That has modified in recent times. The nation’s retail pharmacies have had a serious position in administering Covid vaccines and checks. As a part of Covid emergency provisions, the Facilities for Medicare and Medicaid Companies reimbursed pharmacists and pharmacy technicians for offering vaccinations and a few therapies. The pharmacy business is lobbying to make that provision everlasting and broaden it to cowl comparable take care of circumstances past Covid, corresponding to monkeypox. 

Automated automobiles transferred prescriptions to their applicable bins earlier than cargo.

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