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April 06, 2021

The Potential Value Industry Leaders See in the Autonomous Pharmacy

Allen J. Flynn, PharmD, PhD
Department of Learning Health Sciences
Medical School, University of Michigan

I’ve focused my career on how technology can improve medication use outcomes and advance pharmacy practice. The healthcare industry is keenly interested in technology that improves quality while increasing productivity. Pharmacy leaders see a lot of potential value in future advanced technologies.

That’s why I was excited to join leading health-system pharmacists, pharmacy informaticists, and nursing leaders to form the Autonomous Pharmacy Advisory Board. We work on transforming the pharmacy practice by leveraging advanced technologies to drive more highly automated medication management. Realizing our vision will improve safety, enhance efficiency, and ultimately allow pharmacists working with patients to optimize the role medications play in providing excellent care.

The cost of medications comprises one-seventh of all healthcare spending – a whopping $508 billion per year. Today’s medication-use process involves many inefficient, manual work processes. These work processes are complex, highly variable, and error-prone. The way we currently operate puts everyone involved at undue risk. Pharmacy leaders recognize that current work processes must change.

The Advisory Board has coalesced around the clear vision of a fully autonomous pharmacy. It has developed a framework that identifies five levels of increasing technological capability and work process improvement spanning nine pharmacy work processes. The ultimate goal is near error-free medication management that optimizes the benefits and minimizes the harm and costs of medication use.

Our board recently published a white paper in AJHP that outlines the opportunity of the fully autonomous pharmacy and the five-level framework to drive technology adoption. From a pharmacy practice perspective, the framework supports several important initiatives:

  • Strategic Planning and Assessment – helping health systems to assess current state, and benchmark and measure progress over time
  • Shaping Policy – working with stakeholders to inform new policies and standards of practice for technology adoption
  • Consensus Standards – promoting the development of standards to support the integration of systems and increase interoperability
  • Vendor Engagement – partnering to articulate needs and requirements to develop a new solution to drive key outcomes

In addition, the Advisory Board has launched a new self-assessment tool to begin to establish consistent measurement and useful autonomous pharmacy benchmarking. The tool is a key initial step towards a more reliable measurement of organizational capability, enabling benchmarking against other organizations and recommendations on how best to advance further. We hope that the self-assessment will assist with strategic planning and help make the case for additional capital investment in technology.

I encourage you to join us on this journey! Visit to learn more about the framework and access our new tool to begin your self-assessment.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of the position of any entity other than the author(s). These views are always subject to change, revision, and rethinking at any time and may not be held in perpetuity.

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