July 28, 2021

by Justin Cole, Pharm.D., RPh

Artificial intelligence (AI) may still seem like a pipe dream to some. And yet, the reality is that technology that adapts to the user and environment surrounds us every day. From the smartphones in our pockets to the stock tickers on Wall Street, AI is all around us. To say that our society is just scratching the surface of the potential is a vast understatement. But is the use of so big data in healthcare good, and how will AI impact pharmacy practice?

Examples of AI in today’s pharmacies

Even today, AI is helping pharmaceutical companies quickly analyze millions of potential compounds for medicinal properties. This technology can also find patients for specific clinical trials from various data sources, including unstructured clinical data. At the pharmacist level, the time pharmacists spend on various tasks or activities related to patient care are often tracked, including the amount of time spent verifying a prescription or documenting in an electronic health record. It is also used to track drug utilization and predict changes in drug costs. At the patient level, AI may detect sets of conditions that increase the risk for medication errors or an adverse drug reaction and alert a pharmacist, provider, or nurse to the concern or modify the conditions to prevent the error. These are but a sampling of ways in which AI is being used today — the potential of these technologies in pharmacies is seemingly endless.

Potential roles for AI in tomorrow’s pharmacies

The use of AI and machine learning has the potential to transform pharmacy practice by improving outcomes, decreasing costs, improving the patient experience, and improving the clinician experience — achieving the elusive quadruple aim of healthcare. Today’s pharmacy leaders agree that this technology will soon be ubiquitous. According to the Pharmacy Forecast 2021 from the American Society of Health Systems Pharmacist (ASHP) Foundation, the majority of pharmacy leaders believe that predictive analytics will be used for prioritizing patients to receive pharmacist care in over 75% of hospitals within the next five years. Nearly three out of four surveyed believed that over 50% of hospitals will use algorithms to compute optimal drug dosages and treatments for individual patients. Similar technologies are likely to be leveraged in community pharmacies and other care settings as well.

Even with these technological advantages, the professional judgment and approval of medication orders by the pharmacist is still legally necessary.
The use of AI and machine learning is not without concerns, including both ethical and legal considerations. Confidentiality of sensitive medical information must be maintained. Employee-related health or data could also be analyzed, but must be done so with the same respect for privacy that much other data is afforded. There is also the concern for sale of sensitive information to third parties, which could be leveraged for altruistic or nefarious purposes. Even with these technological advantages, the professional judgment and approval of medication orders by the pharmacist is still legally necessary. Most importantly, we must be careful not to equate the computing power of such technology with human intelligence, reason, and morality. Healthcare has historically been delivered with reliance on a human element — one person caring for another. As creatures imbued with body, soul, and mind, the human element of care not only provides a holistic approach, but allows for expression of empathy, genuine care, and concern that technology may be capable of imitating, but never duplicating.

So to what extent will AI play in pharmacy practice in the future? What will this allow pharmacists to do in the future? Maybe there’s a machine learning application now working to prognosticate that, but only time will truly tell. To hear more on the topic of AI in pharmacy, take a moment to listen to the latest episode of DISRxUPT. In this episode Luke Mennen, Health-System Pharmacy Administration & Leadership Resident at the Cleveland Clinic and Cedarville alumnus, joins the podcast.

Dr. Justin Cole is the Director of the Center for Pharmacy Innovation. He also serves as Associate Professor and Chair of Pharmacy Practice in the Cedarville University School of Pharmacy. Dr. Cole’s interests include pediatrics, pharmacogenomics, immunizations, healthcare leadership, and pharmacy practice advancement.


The Cedarville University School of Pharmacy is equipping its Doctor of Pharmacy students to be on the leading edge of healthcare innovation. Cedarville’s Pharm.D. students are fully prepared to begin a rewarding career as a pharmacist and to use their calling to make a difference for Christ as they serve with excellence and compassion.

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