Purpose: To determine the merits of a robot at the community pharmacy in a quasi-experiment.
Method: The applied methods for data-collection were barcode-time measurements, direct observations, time-interval studies, and tally at a Dutch community pharmacy. The topics consisted of workload, waiting times, congestion, slack, general work, counter work, and work at the consultation room. The topics were studied in pre-test and post-test stages, each stage during six weeks. By using these topics and some additional data from the pharmacy, the economics of the robot were also assessed.
Results: The workload decreased with 15 prescriptions per person per day. The waiting times decreased with one minute and 18 seconds per dispensing process, reducing the wait until counter contact. The day congestion decreased with one hour 27 minutes and 36 seconds, and the day slack increased with 28 minutes. The analysis of the general work showed no appreciable difference in the bulk of the care-related activities and the other activities. However, some work was re-shuffled: 7% increase at counter work and 7% decrease at logistics. Moreover, statistically significant increases were observed at counter work (5%) and robot work (4%), and significant decreases at telephone (3%) and filling work in presence of the patient (4%). The counter tally study showed a rise in care-related activities with 8%. Moreover, it also illuminated a statistically significant decrease at no information (11%) and an increase at only social (2%). The consultation room was never used during the study. The pharmacy economics of the robot showed that the robot had high estimated costs for purchase, depreciation, and maintenance: EUR 187,024 in the first year. Moreover, the robot had positive impact on waiting times, congestion, staffing, logistics, and care-related work, which was estimated on EUR 91,198 in the first year. The estimated payback time of the robot was three years.
Conclusions: An introduction of the robot may indeed have the often supposed positive effects on pharmaceutical care. Even though the costs are high and the technical problems are present, the robot seems to be financial beneficial after three years. The robot can create space for pharmaceutical care, but it has a substantial cost.