The future of pharmacy

Disruption creates transformative opportunities and challenges

Many pharmacies operate on a legacy business model, which is only just beginning to embrace the technologies and customer service innovation that other industries adopted years ago. Not only does this minimize their ability to affect patient outcomes, it is causing safety and profitability issues, as recently discussed in several articles. To complicate matters, regulators and non-traditional players empowered by billions of dollars in venture funding are challenging the legacy profit pools across the entire supply chain, affecting pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and pharmacies.

To really understand our vision of the future of pharmacy, it is important to begin with the consumer and think about how their health care journey changes. As technology becomes ubiquitous and integrated into the smart home, the role of the pharmacy and pharmacist evolves into one that may not even be recognized by today’s standards. We see a convergence of health and wellness, along with an expanded role of telehealth and virtual health care. And while the traditional retail pharmacy experience may no longer exist, there still is likely to be a role for coordinated and high-touch care delivered locally—we see competition between health care professionals for these roles (RPhs, RNs, NPs, PAs, and MDs). There also likely will be people that are not compliant or not willing or able to take advantage of digital health technology (even as costs drop dramatically) and need in-person care.

In today’s health care ecosystem, the pharmacist is a trusted, critical, and―often―underutilized resource. As the pharmacy industry increases its use of enabling technologies, pharmacists may find themselves at a professional crossroads: either grow their role’s scope and value or face potential disintermediation. After all, in a not-so-distant future, robots will likely dispense medication to patients, 3D printers may print combination therapies, and algorithms may address most clinical edits. When combined with technology like smart contact lenses that use augmented reality (AR), it’s possible that lower-skilled staff such as pharmacy technicians may be able to conduct basic tasks like visual verification.

For many pharmacists, this is a welcome opportunity to practice at the top of their license, focusing on being part of the health care team through disease state education, counselling on medications, vaccinations, providing chronic care management alongside physicians, and other cognitive services.

Fortunately, an increasing demand for physicians, combined with projections about people living longer, should create opportunities for pharmacists to evolve and expand their role—perhaps even to become the next generation of primary care providers (PCPs) who treat patients with acute illnesses and manage chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and asthma. Future pharmacists may need to specialize digital, medical and behavioural, to meet patients where they are virtually, medical centres or in the home.

  • Digital: Help patients and providers to select, implement, and manage digital therapeutics and nondrug solutions (such as food) that will meet their needs.
  • Medical: Specialize in the treatment and management of complex diseases and poly-chronic patients with a deep understanding of genetics.
  • Behavioural: Focus on mental health and necessary behavioural changes needed to stay compliant and address social determinants of health (SDH).

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