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Commentary

Robots at Walmart: Are Pharmacists Next?


July 02, 2019

cawleyAdvances in technology continue to surprise us all. From smart phones, smart speaker systems, security systems and more. These devices continue to evolve and change our lives for the better. Although we have welcomed this technology in our workplace and home it doesn’t come without some cost. Over the past few years, there have been a number of companies experiencing cybersecurity flaws where these devices have been compromised and have been “hacked” including personal information and sometimes leading to identity theft.

Recently, I went to my local grocery store and as I was making a selection on my grocery list, I was startled by a robot next to me. I asked one of the workers about it and he was not happy. He stated, “they are here to eventually replace us, but I have to babysit them until they do so.”

This encounter was similar to something I recently read in the Washington Post. A story discusses how Walmart has expanded this fleet of robots to more than 1500 of its stores. The robots include the Auto-C, a self-driving floor scrubber and the Auto-S, a stock supply system. Both systems are being evaluated for improvements over time. Many workers have to supervise the robot to make sure the job is done satisfactorily, however, as the robots job skills improve, the need for human supervision decreases.

Walmart executives say the machines are helpful companions that workers can focus on more creative and customer facing goals. However, the executives also say the robots do not complain, ask for raises, or require vacations and bathroom breaks which will trim waste.1

As a pharmacist for this organization, you may think, “I can’t be replaced by a robot.” My response to that is, “Really?” Any process that can be automated can be easily replaced by a robot. Can a pharmacist named Auto-P be in the future 5, 10, or 15 years from now? The Auto-P future roles may include providing medication, calling your physician, verifying insurance coverage, scanning the OTC aisle, and answering questions. As pharmacists, will we be supervising the new Auto-P until it gets more efficient at performing our responsibilities? What happens to us?  Will this happen in the future?

Michael J. Cawley, PharmD, RRT, CPFT, FCCM, is a professor of clinical pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences. He has more than 25 years of experience practicing in the areas of medical, surgical, trauma, and burn intensive care as both a critical care clinical pharmacist and registered respiratory therapist.

Reference

  1. The Washington Post. As Walmart turns to robots, it’s the human workers who feel like machines. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/06/06/walmart-turns-robots-its-human-workers-who-feel-like-machines/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.02fa4befe8b1. Accessed June 10, 2019.
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