By Amanda Winslow, PharmD, BCPS
When you hear the words “Artificial Intelligence,” what is the first thing that comes to your mind? For me, it’s the supercomputer Watson that IBM pitted against some heavy-hitters on Jeopardy. Watson was a flashy version of artificial intelligence (AI) that was meant to impress the general public. The actual definition of AI is the theory and development of computer system’s abilities to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. Nowadays, we all use AI regularly. Parking assist in cars, voice assistants on cell phones, and search recommendations on the internet are all examples of common AI. Inside our pharmacies, we have been using AI for years and you may not have even realized it! In this article, we will discuss artificial intelligence and how it can be beneficial in the realm of pharmacy.
Types of Artificial Intelligence:
There are 4 types of artificial intelligence: reactive machines AI, limited memory AI, theory of mind AI, and self-aware AI. Reactive machine AI can only use information that it already has at any given moment. It is the simplest form of AI. Limited memory AI is able to use the current situation in conjunction with past memory to make a more informed decision. An example of limited memory AI is the virtual assistant on your phone. Based on your search history and past interactions, the system can more accurately pick a restaurant you might like or suggest a good time to schedule a meeting. Theory of mind AI is currently in development, but will be able to discern the needs, emotions, beliefs, and thinking of those that it interacts with. The final AI or self-aware AI is where the computer achieves self-consciousness.
Artificial Intelligence in the Pharmacy:
AI was originally developed to help streamline processes and make them more efficient. Enlisting machines to do rudimentary work has allowed humans to use their brainpower to do more comprehensive tasks. This stands true for the pharmacy as well. We rely heavily on clinical decision support to check medication interactions with other medications, foods and disease states. This reliance allows staff to fill more prescriptions per hour than could be filled before integrating the software. Imagine, with each prescription, having to stop and look up the medication in your reference guide and compare the patient’s med list to the interactions section. It would take, at minimum, a few extra minutes for each medication. Instead, at the click of a button, the decision support tells us if there is or is not an interaction, and usually provides detailed information for review! Another example is the software that generates lists of medication adherence calls. It analyzes fill-rate data against expected days’ supply and generates a report if there is a discrepancy. This type of AI helps the pharmacist identify patients with barriers to care and can also increase revenue by getting the patient back into the pharmacy.
Artificial intelligence is a rapidly expanding field that pharmacies should take advantage of. Utilizing new and existing tools will allow the pharmacist to step back from the tedious task of filling prescriptions and practice at the top of their license. A robot can accurately count, package, and label a medication. The pharmacist would then have time to make sure that the prescription is clinically correct and to counsel the patient. They would also have more free time to identify appropriate patients for vaccinations and to administer those vaccinations. This will again improve revenue and get the patients better, more comprehensive care. By embracing technology, including AI, pharmacists would have more time to develop new services to better serve our patients and communities.