AI offers tactical solutions for pharmacy — for now

By William Richards

AI offers tactical solutionsLate last year, the New York Times reported on a lack of foresight at the FDA, whose approval of about 350 medical software products for sale that incorporate artificial intelligence has led to mixed results.

On one hand, AI offers the promise of efficiency—from auto-fill content to help staff who repeatedly enter intake information to sharper diagnostic suggestions based on data and patient symptoms. AI's "large language models," or LLMs, can crunch vast amounts of data about frequency and probability to deliver information to providers quickly and, many say, with a reasonable margin of error.

On the other hand, many feel that the range of what AI does imperfectly has an unacceptable margin for error related to patient privacy or, at the very worst, poor recommendations on how patients should be prioritized by providers during the acute care phase, as the article's reporter Christina Jewett notes.

The report came on the heels of President Biden's executive order, also on Oct. 30, calling for AI regulations among government agencies, and just two days ahead of a Bletchley Park summit about the future of AI regulation, hosted by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who will welcome representatives from the U.S., including Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as from the European Commission and Italy.

But, at the scale of the individual pharmacy, AI offers some tactical applications that some experts say have a tangible benefit short of billing coding or diagnostics in the realm of cash pricing optimization and marketing.

For the past year, Prescryptive Health has been running webinars about profitability, as promoted by NCPA, and its vice president for programs and policy Paige Clark recently led a September webinar called "Predictive Profitability from AI." While the FDA and regulators are sorting out the thornier issues around AI, she says pharmacists can leverage AI to have a firmer grip on future profitability while also staying in the moment for current patients.

"Technology is the single most pivotal and most important element in play in our pharmacy landscape," says Clark, "and we are going to win or we are going to lose our profession based on who we chose as partners and how adept we become in sorting out technology capabilities."

Prescryptive's 2023 Rewriting the Script Report noted that 61 percent of insured individuals nationwide reported paying out of pocket for medication despite having insurance, and 50 percent of consumers in urban markets said it was often cheaper to pay out of pocket than it was to use insurance. Pharmacists need a reliable cash pricing solution that's pharmacy-friendly and patient-focused, and that's where AI comes in, which Prescryptive uses to adjust drug prices based on real time market forces. Pharmacies that utilize AI-backed systems like Prescryptive's can see a per-drug profit increase, get claim-level detailed reports, improve workflows, and, all-in-all, spend less time making calls to verify prices and more time working with patients to consult on their problems.

"The ability to utilize intelligent pricing solutions is essential right now," Clark says, "so that we can position ourselves in markets by having factual information about where we sit in that market."

Ravi PatelRavi Patel, PharmD, teaches at the School of Pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh, and he says there is incredible potential of AI tools like ChatGPT in revolutionizing pharmacy practice and its impact on patient care and operational efficiencies.

Patel presented a session at the 2023 NCPA Annual Convention in Orlando called "AI-Powered Pharmacy: Embracing Innovation for Better Patient Outcomes and Business Growth." He says community pharmacies can adopt AI for lots of things—notably marketing on social media, where keywords are king, and weekly or monthly newsletters for loyal patients are a snap to compose with a few keystrokes in an AI "chatbot." A few hours of savings during the week are a few hours that may be reallocated to other aspects of the business.

America's Pharmacist® contributor Wayne Glowac says there are five tips to integrate AI into your marketing copy, from generating fresh website and newsletter content that's (reasonably) reliable to creating short sales pitches to crafting social media posts that inform as well as engage readers. What that means is simple: you tell the computer to create something for you using a few parameters, and what it spits out is ready to copy and paste (although one would be wise to review it before publishing it).

Worried about copyright? Worry not. Content generated by an AI chatbot is not protected under U.S. copyright law. Does it seem to good to be true? Maybe. In a July 2023 feature for the magazine, Glowac warned readers to know what you want before asking AI to help you. Have strategy first before pursuing AI as one tactic among many.

"While AI offers numerous benefits, it's essential to recognize that it is not a magic solution. You should approach AI implementation strategically, aligning it with your specific marketing goals," Glowac noted. "Human expertise and judgement are still crucial in interpreting AI-generated insights and making marketing decisions."

Read more in the July 2023 issue of America's Pharmacist.