The American healthcare system is changing rapidly. Providers are struggling to adapt to the structural changes wrought by the Affordable Care Act, as insurers control our medical care more than ever.
The system is not just changing on the provider side of the equation. The patient experience is evolving too. Innovations in pharmacy technology form a big part of that changing experience.
So much of the American healthcare system still relies on personal interaction, while pharmacy interactions are among the most rote. This leaves the field wide open for tech to come in and make it more efficient. That is just what health information technology, or HIT, is doing in the world of American pharmacies.
We have collected some of the most exciting innovations below. Read on to discover the myriad ways in which technology is changing the way we order and pick up prescriptions as well as the drugs themselves.
7 Innovations in Pharmacy Health Information Technology
HIT is a broad field. It could mean any number of things, and on this list, it does.
We wanted to use the most expansive definition of technology to show the breadth of changes that are having effects on the pharmaceutical world.
You will see what we mean below, so let’s dive right in.
1. Precision Medicine
The sequencing of the human genome has repercussions for pharmaceutical medicine. This field within the field is called precision medicine. Precision medicine is so named because it uses genetic information to pinpoint the biological causes of disease as accurately as possible.
Functionally, here is what precision medicine looks like.
Researchers identify abnormalities in the genes that make certain drugs more effective than others in the treatment of a specific illness. For example, why does one antidepressant work so well for one patient and cause horrible side effects for another? The answer may lie in their genes.
Pharmaceutical companies hope to rely on precision medicine techniques to develop more effective drugs. Doctors can use precision medicine to prescribe the correct drug to each patient without having to go through as much trial and error as we do currently.
2. Large-Scale Robotics
When it comes to updates to our present ways of doing things, robots take second place only to flying cars as signs we have reached the future. Since flying cars do not seem to have much use in the world of pharmacy, robots will have to suffice for us. And the way robots are improving healthcare makes them more than sufficient.
One advancement robotics promises is increased sterility.
Take the example of a new automatic robotic system that prepares IV medications and medications administered with a single-use syringe. The system is called i.v.STATION, and it removes many of the human elements from this relatively uncomplicated process. In doing so, i.v.STATION increases the sterility of hospital environments, thereby protecting the health of patients like those at Vanderbilt University’s Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital, which has already begun using i.v.STATION.
Health robotics advancements take many forms. These robots are not just large, metal, Jetsons-like devices. They also come in miniature.
We are talking about nanotechnology, which has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of disease as we know it.
Biological nanomachines, also known by the more exciting name “nanobots,” are microscopic enough that they can navigate the bloodstream to deliver drugs and reduce blood toxicity. These consumable machines could one day search and destroy cancer cells or perform internal surgery. Nanotechnology could make the pharm tech job description significantly more futuristic.
Nanobots could also benefit the doctor-patient relationship by sending information to physicians about patient compliance and how well they accomplished their tasks. Patients could also access this information through mobile apps.
4. Mobile Health
Did someone say “mobile apps”? Mobile health, or mHealth, has already begun transforming the health world, and it is far from done.
mHealth technology’s benefits can be far-reaching, starting with its ability to assist in clinical trials. The amount of data mHealth apps can record makes them a research tool without precedence. What makes them even more useful in this record is the number of people who have adopted the use of mHealth apps so easily, which makes for an even larger and more accurate sample size.
There is a use for insurance companies here. If patients give these companies permission to access information, they may be able to assess risk more accurately.
These apps are not simply privacy-invasion devices. Patients can benefit from the information they gather directly.
One example of these benefits is GlucoSuccess, an app developed by Massachusetts General Hospital that focuses on diabetes and prediabetes. When users access the information GlucoSuccess collects, they gain insight into how their medications and behavior affect their health. When they work in collaboration with their doctor and pharmacist, they can use these insights to improve their behavior as well as their regimen of medications.
GlucoSuccess is just one of several mHealth apps Apple unveiled as part of its ResearchKit platform, an open source software framework for medical researchers to gather health data.
5. Central Fill
Here we turn our attention from purely technical advancements to a logistical advancement enabled by technology.
Central fill is not itself a new concept. It is the practice many pharmacies use of filling prescriptions at a central location rather than on-site.
The new aspect of central fill is this. Pharmacies are now using central fill from third parties, instead of setting up their own facilities. This keeps the pharmacies from incurring the costs associated with the construction, maintenance, and operation of these facilities.
This cost-saving technology would not be possible if pharmacies did not have the communication technology to stay in close touch with facilities to request and receive inventory.
6. 3D Printing
3D printing offers multiple possibilities to patients. It would be tough to name them all, so we will focus on just two.
The first is the personalization of doses. 3D printing could allow providers to adjust doses for individual patients, which has often been prohibitively expensive.
The other possibility? Patients may be able to print out their own drugs.
This technology still has a long way to go and many facets to sort through, like regulation. But its effects could be enormous.
Our final entry is a weapon in fighting America’s opioid epidemic.
EPCS stands for “electronic prescribing of controlled substances.” It is a method of monitoring patients’ prescriptions and cross-referencing data to flag drug abuse and drug diversion from one patient to another.
EPCS is not the most elegant technology we have listed, but it is a powerful use of computing power. EPCS can help pharmacies conform to federal and state requirements by relying on the plethora of information in a patient’s medication history.
New Pharma Makes New Patients
We hope these HIT advancements excite you. These innovations in pharmacy are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of changing American medical care. As they become integrated into healthcare, they will make for more informed and hopefully healthier patients.
We will need good reviews of these technologies as they become available. If you would like to read reviews of available technologies, check out our own product reviews.