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Artificial intelligence, here we come

artificial intelligence | Picture of Andre Picard, health columnist for the Globe & Mail - Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy

Artificial intelligence, here we come

Whether or not pharmacists are ready, artificial intelligence and robotics are ramping up quickly, said André Picard, keynote speaker at the recent Innovation Showcase in Toronto hosted by the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy.

The award-winning Globe and Mail columnist and veteran health reporter told the audience of pharmacists and other healthcare stakeholders gathered in Toronto that pharmacists won’t be fully replaced by AI anytime soon, but those using technology to innovate their practices will likely replace those who don’t.

In painting a picture of a pharmacy in 2050, Picard described a high-tech workplace rife with robots and AI chat-boxes to greet patients or “a hologram of a pharmacist until a real pharmacist is needed,” along with drones delivering medications to patients who don’t want to come in at all.

But he also stressed the importance of the pharmacy as a community health hub, where health practices are integrated. “A place where you go for your preventative healthcare, primary care, nutrition advice, diagnostics and all kinds of other health needs,” he said. “Pharmacies will be one-stop health shopping.”

He predicted that the pharmacy of the future will be the place to get everything from vaccines to MRIs and rehab, as well as providing more and more mobile clinics that travel to homes and offices as needed. “In the future healthcare comes to you and it’s very personalized,” he said.

Picard spoke to the benefit of using AI and other technologies to systemize processes and take over mundane pharmacy tasks as “bots and robots don’t get tired or distracted or burned out from overwork,” he said. Other future benefits of AI in the pharmacy will be its ability to provide disease surveillance to detect new outbreaks and real-time translation for pharmacists dealing with multicultural patients.   

On the flip side, he spoke to the limitations of the technology, namely poor outcomes due to discrepancies and biases picked up from outdated information. “On rare occasions, ChatGPT can hallucinate and make things up whole hog,” he said. “It still needs human oversight.”

In using technology to create better healthcare environments in pharmacy, Picard also pointed to politics and policy as being the biggest impediments to innovative change. “Change will come, but only if we adapt our thinking and health systems to the really revolutionary technology coming down the pipeline.” One of the biggest advantages pharmacies have and will continue to have in the future is convenience, said Picard. As much as technology is pushing healthcare forward, so are consumers who want more personalized, quickly accessible care, he said. “The combination of these two is going to create the revolution in health care.” 

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