By Andrea Reed, VP of Pharmacy, Novant Health
Artificial intelligence (AI) is the development of computer systems to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence, using various inputs of data and generally involving deep learning, decision-making, visual perception, and natural language processing (NLP). Healthcare is one of the largest industries using AI, with many new companies starting or shifting to focus on this space. Some benefits of integrating AI into workflows include decreasing time and costs to deliver value, supporting and enhancing the expertise of healthcare professionals, and linking complex processes and multiple disciplines for better decision-making.
Some healthcare professionals have concerns that AI may result in overall job loss. Considering the current state of understaffing across healthcare, this could be a benefit of AI. Additionally, the use of AI does not replace healthcare professionals; it enhances their performance and allows increased patient interactions that have been lost over the last decade from the increasing digitization of healthcare. Pharmacists have been more conditioned to sit behind a computer than most, but it would be very freeing to focus on spending time with patients and families, improving education and transition plans, and ensuring safety and understanding of medications.
AI is integrated into pharmacy today, but the rates and recognition of the technology are variable. Some examples include the use of AI in drug shortage management, the detection of certain conditions to predict adverse drug events, the prediction of drug levels based on patient characteristics, and the identification of clinically beneficial pharmaceuticals.
In addition to identifying future drugs, AI has other implications in pharmaceutical research. It can be used to succinctly summarize published literature, which is doubling at a rate faster than ever imagined. AI can identify patients appropriate for clinical trials and make recruiting faster than ever. Pharmacists could benefit from practicing with patterns provided by AI technology, allowing them time to provide personalized care with the efficiency gained. AI can also produce algorithms to determine patients who could benefit most from a pharmacist’s care. Another benefit is integrating workflows to quickly summarize lab data and problem lists to eliminate manual chart review. These are just few benefits of integrating AI in pharmacist workflows; many more will be identified in the near future.
Pharmacy leaders must be open and prepare pharmacy teams for the future, including discussion on how AI can improve their work, not replace it.
Implementing AI brings many benefits to the pharmacy and some new challenges, including the impact on policy and laws for pharmacy practice. Legally, there is a requirement for pharmacists to approve medication orders. With the implementation of AI, this requirement could be challenged, which could negatively impact ensuring pharmacist involvement in patient care. Another potential concern with integrating AI is ensuring pharmacists and technicians understand the technology, what it is trying to convey to the end user, and how to act on the information. If there is not enough time spent focusing on integration into workflows and making it easy and understandable for the end user, it is not likely to be successful. It may also result in increased costs, with wasted money spent on the tool and the time lost with teams developing, training, and employing the technology.
Are pharmacy teams prepared to understand and integrate AI in their processes? AI is not part of most pharmacy schools or leadership curriculums, so it is critical that information and knowledge sharing on AI in healthcare and pharmacy be discussed and published. In the most recent ASHP Pharmacy Forecast, pharmacy leaders responded to questions regarding AI in drug dosing optimization and drug utilization patterns. Most pharmacy leaders felt it was at least somewhat likely that AI would be part of pharmacist work by 2025, which is quickly approaching.
So, where do we go from here? Pharmacy leaders must be open and prepare pharmacy teams for the future, including discussion on how AI can improve their work, not replace it. We have to continue to think about current pain points and opportunities where AI could improve performance, increase patient interaction, and improve patient outcomes. There are numerous use case examples to enhance pharmacy services with AI. The technology can be used for pharmacogenomics and eliminate the manual work for pharmacists to search for genetic testing results and review guidelines and published literature to modify drug therapy. AI makes the next iteration of personalized medicine possible. Another use case is improving transitions of care by determining who is at risk for adherence issues. AI could analyze drug interaction alerts to minimize the clinically irrelevant ones for pharmacists to reduce alert fatigue. If AI is utilized in the future for better diagnostic methods, pharmacists could fill gaps for provider shortages by stepping in to prescribe necessary medications based on diagnosis. AI could be used to monitor pharmacy technician work for compounding or packaging with specialized cameras to recognize the work technicians are doing.
Overall, AI can impact pharmacy, unlike anything we have ever seen. It can improve costs, care, safety, value, and satisfaction and move the pharmacist closer to the patient, where the significant benefit can be seen. It can free pharmacists from lower-level, technical work and focus their work on the highest-risk patients. In the future, AI can allow pharmacists to support ongoing provider shortages. Patients may receive the safest, most efficient, and most personalized medication therapy in the healthcare history with the integration of AI in pharmacy.