Pharmacy giant Walgreens is embracing prescription-packaging robots designed to free up pharmacists' time while greatly reducing costs.
Pharmacist workloads could be cut by 25% and may save the company $1 billion per year - and is an effort that will continue to accelerate in the future. Controlled medication and time-sensitive prescriptions still require a pharmacist to sign and validate the prescription.
Walgreens might see half of its prescription volume from stores filled at automated centers by 2025, which would make it possible for pharmacists to focus more on direct interaction with patients. Pharmacists will now be able to provide direct medical services and patient outreach, which is currently limited due to tasks that aren't automated.
Here is what Roz Brewer, CEO of the Walgreens Boots Alliance, told CNBC earlier in 2022: "We're doing all of this work so that the pharmacist has an easier job so that they can get back to being front and center, building a relationship with that patient and interacting the way they were trained - the work that they love to do."
A facility in Texas, fully operated by robots, fills 35,000 prescriptions for 500 stores each day - prescriptions for inhalers and select medications require a human touch - but the robots are expected to get better in time.
Bottles travel along a conveyor belt while scanners read bar codes and dispense the medications - paperwork is printed and paired with the appropriate prescriptions. Each patient's prescription is bagged and placed in a designated tote for each pharmacy location.
Brick-and-mortar pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, and Rite Aid must find new ways to stay competitive with online services that offer prescription delivery services. CVS also uses robotics to fill prescriptions in select stores, though Walgreens continues to lead the way toward full automation. By 2025, the pharmacy hopes to have 22 centralized facilities able to cater to 8,500 of its 9,000 stores.