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frustrated pharmacist struggles with an old computer manual

7 signs you're a technologically frustrated pharmacist

Pharmacy technology has a habit of driving pharmacists up the wall.

These days, it’s possible to organise your life with a few taps of your phone screen. But in their professional lives, many pharmacists lack this luxury. This has given rise to the phenomenon of the technologically frustrated pharmacist.

Naturally, a regulated industry such as pharmacy can’t just adopt technology carelessly. There’s too much at stake. Yet, many practising pharmacists have begun to question whether the technological revolution has passed them by.

If you feel this way, the good news is you’re not alone. After speaking to several seasoned practitioners, the team at Brother found that lots of pharmacists share this view. Based on their thoughts, here are a handful of emotions you might experience if you’re part of this growing group of technologically frustrated pharmacists.

1. When you think of your time as a student and realise nobody said you’d spend half your time doing data entry

pharmacist struggling with computer system

Pharmacy schools and professional leaders sold you the dream – you’d be a pillar of a world-class healthcare system, working with cutting-edge drugs and helping people in their hour of need. While this is, of course, true, it’s far from glamorous – because people don’t realise just how much tedious data entry accompanies your daily acts of heroism.

Often, the main source of this frustration is the PMR (Patient Medication Record) software. Poorly-designed workflows and hard-to-navigate systems conspire to generate as many redundant mouse clicks and keystrokes as possible. Perhaps these software providers also sell occupational overuse syndrome therapies on the side? Okay… perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration, but just think how much time would be saved if your PMR was better designed.

2. When you let out a sigh after realising there’s more computing power in your pocket than there is in your dispensary computer

frustrated pharmacist using old computer system

If only the dispensary computer was as powerful as your smartphone, there might be a chance that your average pharmacist might enjoy something approaching regular working hours. Okay, that might be a little ambitious, but too much time is wasted considering the tendency of pharmacy computers to temporarily freeze or crash entirely at the request of the most basic task.

Wouldn’t it be great if pharmacists and customers had ‘an app for that’, as the phrase goes? Apps for medicines management – for pharmacists and patients – are becoming more common, but they are not common enough, and they don’t necessarily interface easily with PMR systems.

3. When you glance over at the fax machine and wonder what century you’re living in

frustrated pharmacist struggling with a fax machine

How many industries still require fax machines as part of their operational infrastructure? The answer is not many – a fact that has not escaped the legion of technologically frustrated pharmacists. Too often, they’re doing the job that modern copiers and scanners would normally do. And though they might not be around forever, their presence is a reminder that pharmacy hasn’t progressed with technology as much as other industries.

4. When you read an article about dispensing robots in pharmacies and think: that’ll be the day

pharmacy dispensing robots

Robots will take our jobs! Or so say some experts. In reality, they might just reduce dispensary picking errors and up your dispensary throughput instead. But, as a technologically frustrated pharmacist, you’d be surprised if dispensing robots made their way into your pharmacy any time soon. Especially when you have enough trouble trying to get your superiors to change a lightbulb.

Adoption of robotics in community pharmacy has been painfully slow despite their potential benefits. Some robots could even prevent pharmacists’ fingers bleeding when they un-blister all the tablets out of the foil packs into their patients’ medicine cassettes. But that’s unlikely to bother the bean counters when they do their cost-benefit analysis.

Overall, an automated utopia with intelligent assistants feels like a distant dream. In fact, perhaps the real danger is that dispensing robots eventually become so intelligent that they decide to retrain in a more tech-friendly profession.

5. When your blood begins to boil after too many irrelevant interaction warnings

frustrated pharmacist receiving a computer warning

While interaction warnings are an important safeguard for hassled pharmacy professionals, it would be nice if they were a little smarter. Interaction warnings can be repetitive and some don’t half state the obvious at times. For example, do you really need reminding that two anti-hypertensives may have an enhanced effect and result in hypotension? The chances are you’ll need both drugs for your own blood pressure as your stress levels build.

This is just one of a list of dozens of process hurdles and annoyances technology can present a pharmacist on a regular basis. Sometimes scanners can’t recognise a product and it must be looked up manually. Sometimes a label for a pack of three medicines is printed as a single label. Then there are printer jams – yes, we’re not saying we’re perfect either – which can disrupt your flow. This all adds up to a lot of wasted time and frustration for highly-skilled pharmacists.

6. When you dream of a world where healthcare software could talk to each other

frustrated pharmacist looking at hand-written documents

Wouldn’t it be nice if GPs’ and community pharmacists’ IT systems could speak the same language? Thankfully, some software suppliers north of the border are starting to integrate things like the Scotland PCR (the NHS Pharmacy Care Record) with GP software, but it’s very much the exception to the rule for now. In England, the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) and availability of the SCR to community pharmacists has helped to improve pharmacist/GP communications.

However, often the pharmacist still has to plug gaps in the system themselves. Barcodes won’t scan because the GP surgery printer was low on ink; the prescription won’t scan because the GP produced a duplicate by accident; improper use of EPS requires pharmacists to scan huge bundles of prescriptions and collect them from the GPs surgery; the list goes on.

7. When you’re interrupted by the pharmacy phone for the umpteenth time...

frustrated pharmacist interrupted by the pharmacy phone

You know full well that running a pharmacy is a bit like spinning plates. That’s why the last thing you need is the phone interrupting you constantly. Things aren’t quite as bad now that people can Google what time the pharmacy closes, but even today, the ratio of important calls to trivial  ones is out of kilter.

While you’re reluctantly listening to a customer’s life story, your mind is prone to wandering. You think of banks and mobile operators, who seem to do whatever it takes to answer your question automatically before you’re put through to a person. And if you’re a technologically frustrated pharmacist, part of you probably wish es your branch did the same. A receptionist would do the trick too. They might even make you brews.

There is, of course, a certain irony in all of this. Pharmacists have a meticulous eye for side-effects and warnings – and they are always referring patients to the warnings on the label. But are pharmacists able to tolerate the adverse effects of ineffective technology in their daily practice, without needing a prescription of their own?

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