Disruption creates transformative opportunities and challenges
How will the future of pharmacy take shape? As innovations in life sciences and new technology disrupt the health care value chain, consumers are increasingly focused on well-being, demanding greater health care access, convenience, and customized products. In this environment, exciting opportunities emerge for pharmacists to evolve and expand their role.
Explore an immersive glimpse into the future of pharmacy
The role of pharmacy and the pharmacist in the health care ecosystem is evolving as technologies—like artificial intelligence and virtual health—drive exponential change. But as pharmacy capabilities and clinical breakthroughs advance, how will the role of the pharmacy and the pharmacist evolve within the broader care team?
Watch our video to follow the virtual care journey of a patient in the future of health. You’ll see evolving pharmacy technologies put into action and how these advancements can help improve convenience, insights, and outcomes for consumers.
Innovations in technology and life sciences transform pharmacy
Exponential change is accelerating disruption across the health care value chain and transforming the future of pharmacy. Clinical and technology breakthroughs are occurring at a record pace, building on the power of artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and insights derived from radically interoperable data. As “imprecision medicine”1 shifts to precision treatments, the role of the pharmacist and the delivery channels we know today are likely to change. This combination may bring about a move from a fee-for-service reimbursement model to a value-based model, aligning pharmacy with the broader payer shifts underway.
Innovation is happening across the life sciences:
- Researchers are developing smart mirrors that use advanced cameras and your breath to detect health variations.2
- Multiple companies are testing and working on home health care bots that can perform basic services, while elderly workers in Japan are using exoskeletons to extend their ability to perform manual labor.3
- Smartphones are evolving to allow them to act as point-of-care and home health diagnostic tools for conditions such as urinary tract infections4 or diabetic eye disease.5
- Labs have produced an ingestible origami robot that can be swallowed and controlledto patch a wound.6
- Companies are using the gut microbiome to create a food-as-medicine approach to manage glucose levels and improve overall health.7
When these innovations are combined with the growing influence of consumers focused on their well-being, the future of pharmacy will be radically different. These dynamics create exciting tension for pharmacy companies and pharmacists as they debate how to win in today’s market while planning, adapting, and investing for the future.
Technology-driven disruption happens fast
Many pharmacies operate on a legacy business model that is only just beginning to embrace the technologies and customer service innovation. Today’s retail pharmacists are highly trained, trusted medical professionals who spend a disproportionate amount of time counting pills and addressing clinical edits rather than operating at the top of their license (such as providing point-of-care testing and counseling). Not only does this tend to minimize their ability to affect patient outcomes, but is also causing safety8 and profitability9 issues. To complicate matters, regulators and nontraditional players are challenging the legacy profit pools across the entire supply chain, affecting pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and pharmacies.
The dynamic pace of today’s innovation cycles is likely to create disruption, not a gentle evolution. Looking ahead, we can begin to imagine a pharmacy industry that looks much different than it does today:
- Treatments would no longer be focused on chemical and biologic solutions, but instead focus on digital therapeutics, nutraceuticals, implants, gene editing,10 and programmable bacteria accelerated by clinical research.
- Retail pharmacies could become consolidated health destinations with product distribution altered by 3D printing, kiosks, telehealth, and same-day delivery by driverless cars, autonomous bots, and drones.
- Automation and AI algorithms would enhance pharmacists’ responsibilities, allowing them to become recognized as care providers, ultimately prescribing acute medications and managing chronic diseases.
- Massive data sets connected by Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices, cloud-based algorithms, and quantum computing could enable real-time diagnosis and insights that are integrated into our daily lives and shared across care providers.
While many of these changes seem inevitable, the key question is: How quickly will they occur? The time horizon depends upon the regulatory environment, consumer adoption of technology, where and how competitors invest, and the economic viability of the innovations that are brought to market.
The future consumer experience
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, 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 will also likely 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.
Future of the pharmacist
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 medications 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.
Fortunately, an increasing demand for physicians,11 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. That will require regulatory changes, but pharmacists are increasingly being recognized as providers in the United States,12 building on global discussions about pharmacist prescribing.13
We see three specialized paths going forward: digital, medical, and behavioral.
To move confidently into the future of pharmacy, companies should begin by acknowledging and being realistic about their core competencies and how those are sustainable and/or transferable. While there are clearly opportunities to continue to make money today, forward-thinking organizations are asking questions such as:
- Who inside or outside of our ecosystem will be a competitor or disruptor? Who could be an ally?
- How quickly will our sector innovate relative to the ecosystem’s rate of change?
- How will risk shift to or away from us, and what will be the impact?
- Should we innovate now to be in control of our future or wait until the disruptors gain market share and prove the model, in which case it’s much more expensive to get into the market?
- How will our talent strategy and organizational structure support our future business?
- Do our existing systems and technology support expectations for omnichannel and digital or virtual engagement?
Ultimately, the challenge for most companies is not generating sufficient ideas on how to move forward. Rather, it is aligning and prioritizing those ideas to determine where and how much to invest to secure their place in the future of pharmacy.
1 Schork, N. “Personalized medicine: Time for one-person trials,” Nature, 2015
2 “Smart Mirror’ Could Scan Your Face to Detect Health Risks,” Discover, July 28, 2015, https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/smart-mirror-could-scan-your-face-to-detect-health-risks
3 “The Elderly in Japan are Using Exoskeletons to Delay Retirement,” Neoscope, December 12, 2019, https://futurism.com/neoscope/elderly-japan-exoskeletons
5 “Smartphones double as pint-of-care diagnostics,” LabPulse.com, December 2, 2019, https://www.labpulse.com/index.aspxsec=sup&sub=poc&pag=dis&ItemID=800562
6 “Ingestible origami robot unfolds inside the stomach to remove button batteries,” New Atlas, May 15, 2016, https://newatlas.com/origami-robot-retrieves-button/43304
7 Example companies include DayTwo (https://www.daytwo.com) and Viome (https://www.viome.com)
8 “How Chaos at Chain Pharmacies Is Putting Patients at Risk,” The New York Times, January 31, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/31/health/pharmacists-medication-errors.html
9 “The Pharmacist Is Out: Supermarkets Close Pharmacy Counters,” The Wall Street Journal, January 27, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-pharmacist-is-out-supermarkets-close-pharmacy-counters-11580034600
10 “Scientists Create New, More Powerful Technique To Edit Genes,” NPR, October 21, 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/10/21/771266879/scientists-create-new-more-powerful-technique-to-edit-genes
11 “America’s aging population is leading to a doctor shortage crisis,” CNBC, September 6, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/06/americas-aging-population-is-leading-to-a-doctor-shortage-crisis.html
12 “On the road to provider status,” Drug Topics, Volume 163, Issue 6, June 13, 2019, https://www.drugtopics.com/latest/road-provider-status
13 “Stakeholders’ views and experiences of pharmacist prescribing: a systematic review,” Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2018 Sep; 84(9):1883-1905. doi: 10.1111/bcp.13624. Epub 2018 Jun 19.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29873098