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How do regulations apply when pharmacies use robots?

Pharmacists are, essentially, medication managers. These medical professionals spend years studying and training to provide patients with guidance and information on various medications. In some cases, they may fill prescriptions and discuss benefits and potential risks of medications as well as review any possible interactions with other medications. In others, they may outsource some of this work to an automated system — a robot.

What types of systems are using automation in their pharmacies?

Robots can help fill prescriptions and reach out to patients to see if there are any concerns. Some systems, like the University of California San Francisco, have used such systems for almost a decade. Others, like Hartford Health, are just starting.

What roles do these systems serve?

As noted above, pharmacies can use robotic devices to help reach patients and poll for any concerns or additional questions. This could then trigger additional contact from the pharmacist. They can also fill the bottles, so to speak, helping get the medications prepped to go to the patients as needed.

There may be a whole new world of automation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, we may see more use of remote meetings between the patient and pharmacist, possibly scheduled using robotic aid.

What about regulations?

This type of use of robots can help improve patient care, but pharmacy leaders may wonder how it impacts the regulations that guide pharmacies. In general, the regulations will apply in the same manner as they do when humans serve these roles. Pharmacies are held to a high standard, and the federal government expects them to meet these expectations. Some examples include those outlined in the Stark law, Anti-Kickback Statute, and HIPAA, to name a few.