The bright future of pharmacies
Although pharmacies play a key role in the care process, patients' impression of pharmacists and pharmacies is often that they offer a purely commercial type of service. The doctor prescribes the appropriate medicine with the proper instructions, and the pharmacist provides it in exchange for money. Point.
However, the medical technology revolution is changing the boundaries between roles in the healthcare system. For example, through patient empowerment, it balances the patient-doctor power relationship that was previously more asymmetrical. The pharmacy of the future will be no exception, seeing a redefinition of its role in the system. A simple "drug store" will not be enough in a shared, community-based economy.
The portrait of the pharmacy of the future
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society published a report on future models of care delivered through the pharmacy, and made several recommendations that I consider noteworthy. In their opinion, the pharmacy of the future should:
- Shift the focus from distributing medicines to providing a wider range of services;
- Help people get the most out of their medicines;
- Take initiative and lead change locally, don't wait for national solutions;
- Be part of a collaborative network involving other pharmacies and other health professions.
From pharmacist to pharmacist
To sum up, the pharmacy of the future is a mix between the old galenic shop and 21 ° century of tech-gurus. The "pharmacist" will hold a special place in a given community, learn the stories of his "patients" and provide basic care for their diseases with appropriate medicines. It will know how to decrypt data from health trackers and wearable devices, and will be able to provide the necessary care based on this data. In summary, a true scientific professional who knows the basics and the latest developments in the pharmaceutical sector and medicine in general.
Such a "drug doctor" would be useful in rural, remote or smaller communities that have significantly less access to pharmacies. This phenomenon also has repercussions on hospital readmission data . In rural areas, where people can't find open pharmacies when needed, the researchers found readmission figures were higher than in urban areas. If the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of healing, this phenomenon must also be changed. And the technology is at our disposal to do it.
Here are potential future scenarios and technologies that could have a big impact on pharmacies.
1. Health management centers, not just drug distributors
The pharmacy of the future will not have to act exclusively for the distribution of drugs. With the help of technology it will gain more importance in filtering patients. Pharmaceuticals, pharmacists of the future, will act as health managers helping healthy patients and patients with medical conditions manage their treatment. They will also manage drug delivery for people with multiple conditions, provide advice for minor ailments, and provide public health services.
To get to the scenario where pharmacies focus on health management rather than drug distribution, organizational and even technological advances must be made.
Technologies such as IT systems for labeling and inventory control e packaging of unit doses (already used in hospitals in the USA and UK) should be used more widely (in Italy excellent signals come from projects such as FidMed). In this way the time dedicated to the selection and storage of medicines will be significantly reduced.
With the spread of wearable sensors and health trackers the pharmacy of the future can help patients interpret data from their wearable devices by recommending minor health corrections or medications based on that data.
In summary, the organization of work and the distribution of tasks could transform the "old" pharmacies into advanced health management structures. A range of services delegated to specially trained members will free up time for the doctor to provide other services, such as basic patient care.
2. Health consultancy and support for telemedicine
Have you ever made one of those huge lines for the pharmacy, only to receive a drug without clarification on use (there is always some doubt)? The pharmacy of the future will provide specific expertise for health advice, not just selling drugs. Pharmacists will have the opportunity to provide basic care to patients with simple problems or provide health management advice. They will form an intermediate link between the old pharmacy and the general practitioner, decongesting his work in many cases.
One of the most important factors for this development is the basic approach to health care. Healthcare professionals, as well as pharmacists, will provide proactive patient care in the most convenient place for the patient. When the actual presence of pharmacists is not possible, solutions such as telemedicine will make up for it. Eg, Intouch Health and its telemedicine network patients in remote areas of the United States have access to high-quality emergency consultations for suspected strokes, cardiovascular problems and burns. Consultations at the exact moment they need it.
Telemedicine will provide good support to the medical professionals themselves in cities and rural areas, to enrich the range of specialized services available to the community.
This is the so-called point-of-care diagnostics, which allows the patient to be diagnosed in the doctor's office, in the ambulance, at home, in the field or in the hospital. The results of the treatments are timely and allow a quick treatment to the patient. A range of next generation medical sensors such as Scanadu Scout they will measure heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygenation and body temperature. Others like Viatom Checkme will provide data for ECG, pulse, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, sleep quality and daily activity. All of them will help healthcare professionals diagnose diseases more precisely and easily, even in the pharmacy of the future.
3. Personalization of therapies and printing of drugs on request
Let's take a step forward in imagining the pharmacy of the future: the old “Apoteke” has been successfully transformed into a health management and consulting center thanks to technologies and organization. How else could pharmacies play a more effective role in a patient's recovery journey?
The pharmacy of the future will have more freedom in the personalization of therapies. By having access to cloud-based algorithms and digital health solutions, the pharmacist will be able to obtain the same quantity and quality of medical information available to a medical center, and "print" drugs on demand. Maybe also participate in clinical trials, or conduct them.
Does it seem impossible to you? Last year, the FDA approved* a drug for epilepsy called Spritam, made by 3D printers. The drug was printed from a powder, layer by layer, to make it dissolve faster than regular pills. Imagine how fast drug delivery could be with a 3D printer in every pharmacy of the future. And no waste on dosages, too.
With the help of artificial intelligence, clinical trials will take much less time. For example, the company Atomwise uses supercomputers that derive therapies from a database of molecular structures. Last year Atomwise launched a virtual search for existing and safe medicines to reuse to treat the Ebola virus. In less than a day they found two already on the market. This analysis would normally have taken months or years. Imagine how efficient drug creation would be if such clinical trials could be performed at the health care level, particularly in pharmacies.