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Published on 1 March 2002

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Pharmacy and the technological explosion

Chris Cairns,

It is not so long ago that pharmacy was a profession where scientific knowledge was used as the backdrop to artistry and technical skills. The preparation of galenicals and extemporaneous preparations made up much of the pharmacist’s day in both community and hospital practice. “Secundem artem” described the pharmacist’s skills, which stretched back to apothecaries and druggists of centuries before.

The “therapeutic explosion” that started in the 1950s and has accelerated ever since brought new challenges. Not only were most dosage forms now presented to the pharmacist in a ready-to-use form, but the pharmacological effects of the new agents far exceeded those of traditional remedies.

Pharmacists (and pharmacy) reinvented themselves in many healthcare systems by using their scientific know-ledge to become experts in drugs use as well as medicines preparation. Clinical pharmacists use their heads as the tool for patient care – in contrast to their hands as their predecessors did.

This shift from a technically focused profession to one that uses cognitive skills still means that pharmacy is a labour-intensive activity.

Recent demands for more medicines, more clinical activities, greater safety in the dispensing process, all coupled with labour shortages in some healthcare economies, have challenged leaders within hospital pharmacy across the world. How can more be done with less?

Harnessing technology is an obvious solution. Pharmacy was a healthcare activity that was computerised early in the electronic age, and electronic prescribing offers new opportunities for reducing risks with medicine use.

What about the labour market gap? Are automation and robotics part of the solution, now that the technology is ­available, reliable and relatively economic? In this edition, this is one of the issues we take an indepth look at.
We may not have all the answers yet, but there are encouraging signs.

Chris Cairns, Editor

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