Have robo-pharmacies become a must-have for Walgreens and other drugstores?
Walgreens will use robots to fill customers’ prescriptions in 22 micro-fulfillment centers the chain is opening in the next three years across the U.S.
CNBC reports that each robot can fill 300 prescriptions in an hour, the equivalent of what Walgreen’s pharmacists and staff fill in a day at one of its pharmacies. The company expects that robots will fill the majority of prescriptions at 8,500 of its 9,000 pharmacies once all of the micro-fulfillment centers are operational. Walgreens currently has three of the robo-fulfillment centers in Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix filling prescriptions. The retailer expects to reduce its working capital by $1.1 billion once all of the micro-fulfillment centers are operational.
Walgreens will use its pharmacists to fill medications that are time-sensitive as well as those classified as controlled substances. The goal is to free pharmacists up to spend more time engaging with customers.
“It’s kind of dreary to be filling scripts all day long,” Rick Fernandez, a regional health care director for Walgreens, told CNBC. “What we were hearing was pharmacy was more of an asset that people gave us credit for.”
A shortage of pharmacists has placed added pressure on drugstores that have had to compete for talent. The pandemic and the introduction of vaccines has expanded the role of pharmacists involved in administering shots and tests.
The use of robots in pharmacy operations is not new; mail-order fulfillment has been automated for years. Walgreens doesn’t immediately plan to fill mail order prescriptions using the robotic system but expects that will be part of its service going forward.
Walgreens is not alone in the use of the technology — rivals CVS and Rite Aid also use robots to help fill prescriptions.
NowRx, an automated pharmacy startup in California, offers free delivery of medications in two to four hours using robots to fill prescriptions.
NowRx, which has eight locations in Arizona and California, fills scripts in under 30 seconds with dispensing robots. The service, which launched in 2016, plans to expand into the Bellevue, WA, Denver and Las Vegas markets before moving into other states, CEO Cary Breese told The Mercury News.
- Walgreens turns to robots to fill prescriptions, as pharmacists take on more responsibilities – CNBC
- Mountain View’s NowRx is looking to make healthcare more convenient – The Mercury News
- Automation key to pharmacy’s reinvention – Drug Store News
- Drug dispensing goes digital – Pharmaceutical Technology
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What impact will widespread use of robotics have on retail pharmacy operations in the U.S.? How will this affect the role of pharmacists?