The Lingering Effects of COVID-19 on Central Pharmacies

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed medicine forever.  Its impact is especially apparent in hospital pharmacies.  Many such pharmacies took on new job responsibilities during the pandemic.  They faced increased prescription demand, changes to medication-use guidelines, and new responsibilities to fill hospital gaps in sanitization and disinfection.  As a result of these demands, staff faced greater risk of burnout.  Even before COVID, 75% of pharmacists reported burnout symptoms.  The pandemic pushed many pharmacy workers over the edge, causing them to quit the field entirely.

Over a year later in May 2021, 80% of pharmacies struggled to fill open positions.  This problem exists across the medical field; by 2026, over 6.5 million healthcare workers will leave, but only 2 million new workers will become available.  Pay raises and better benefits help, but they can’t fix the whole problem.  At the same time as rising labor costs, pharmacies are facing revenue shortfalls.  The fall in non-elective procedures means fewer new prescriptions.  The combined negative impacts of the current pandemic is pushing pharmacies to greater lengths in an effort to stay afloat.

How are central pharmacies handling the challenges thrown their way?  Pharmacy automation technologies let them fill the gap in labor.  For example, automated dispensing systems can pick up to 700 medications per hour.  Compare that to a pharmacy technician, which can pick out 120 per hour.  The automated system also costs less to operate on a per-hour basis, letting busy hospitals save money.  Medication management software can also help hospitals prevent waste.  Right now, 16% of hospital pharmaceutical inventory is lost due to expiration or mishandling.   Tracking inventory also makes it easier to locate and dispose of recalled lots, keeping unintentionally dangerous substances from falling into patient hands.  By 2024, the global market for pharmacy automation will reach nearly $8 billion.