Leveraging AI to alleviate the labour shortage strain of pharmacists

University of Findlay
By Cam Hao Ren
Monday, 01 July, 2024

Leveraging AI to alleviate the labour shortage strain of pharmacists

Labour shortages are an ongoing issue, not just in the Australian healthcare system but on a global scale. The COVID-19 pandemic escalated the problem for all sectors, with many industries like pharmacy care looking to technological advancements for assistance.

There has been a significant decline in recent years in the number of graduating pharmacists, raising concerns about the quality of pharmacy care delivery. Fewer students are graduating from courses like the online Doctor of Pharmacy program, which is a massive contributing factor to the ongoing labour shortage. Recent data from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy shows a 10% decline in graduating pharmacists across the United States, and pharmacy school applicants have declined nearly 60% within the past decade.

What’s more, burnout among current pharmacist employees is also an issue. Even before the pandemic, many people in the profession reported they were overworked in a 2016 survey. Not only is the current workload that pharmacists face contributing to burnout, it’s also leading to poor staff retention and causing the profession to look unappealing to any potential students.

Pharmacists are fundamental

This pharmacist shortage is looking to continue well into the next decade and can have serious repercussions on the industry, as pharmacists are an integral part of healthcare delivery and quality of care.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the projected growth for pharmacy employment between 2021 and 2031 will be 2%. This is significantly slower than any other healthcare profession.

When addressing the pharmacist shortage and burnout within the industry, the problem requires more than just a bandaid fix through boosting enrolment numbers. With the slow estimated growth, lack of applicants and current workers being overworked, many pharmacies — especially large retail stores — are unsure of what to do next.

A modern problem, like the crisis the pharmacy sector is bracing for, requires modern solutions. A few industry professionals have suggested employing the use of artificial intelligence tools to help alleviate the labour shortage.

Innovative solutions are required

By leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent automation (IA) software, pharmacy teams could easily streamline a range of nonclinical and labour-intensive tasks, including data entry, auditing and inventory management.

Through the use of AI and IA tools, pharmacies can enhance efficiency and reduce the current burden on pharmacy staff. This will not only improve the attractiveness of the profession — leading to increased graduation rates — but also reduce the risk of burnout.

Previously, automating tasks like document data entry and inventory management may have seemed impossible for pharmacies — but artificial intelligence offers revolutionary opportunities. AI can handle complex tasks in a way that simple automation software struggles to handle.

Artificial intelligence is already being utilised in some healthcare sectors. For example, AI algorithms are already being tested for patient care. Studies have found it can provide an accurate diagnosis far quicker than a typical doctor.

AI is also being used in other situations, like virtual nursing assistants, AI-based diagnosis tools like IBM’s Watson, and robotic surgery. The technology is already being embedded into health systems, improving quality of care and reducing costs.

For pharmacies, AI and IA can do more than just alleviate the current burden on staff. The tools could potentially be used in almost every facet of the profession, from personalised health advice to automating administrative processes and providing prescription information.

Image credit: iStock.com/Dragos Condrea

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