US Pharm. 2012;37(8):2.
Over the centuries, new technologies have generally been viewed skeptically by naysayers until history proves their value. When the automobile was invented near the turn of the past century, there were plenty of doubters. Some were concerned that replacing the horse as a means of transportation would negatively impact its use on farms; others were worried about the fuel needed to run “horseless carriages,” and still others were troubled by the slow progress of the new technology, as exemplified in a 1909 article published in the prestigious journal Scientific American: “That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.”
And when Alexander Graham Bell wanted to sell his telephone company to Western Union, the president of Western Union responded: “What use could this company make of an electrical toy.” In 1946 Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox film studios, was quoted as saying that television “won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” And who ever thought the Wright brothers would get their odd-looking contraption off the ground? The list of technological marvels produced over the years is endless. Space travel and computers were only things children read about in comic books. Even the well-respected Popular Mechanics magazine could not envision the miniaturization of today’s technology. In 1949, merely 63 years ago, it wrote: “Computers in the future may...perhaps only weigh 1.5 tons. ”
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In the early 1980s when pharmacy computers were making their debut in retail stores, many pharmacists thought that computers and other advanced technologies would eventually eliminate the need for pharmacists. And yet, 30 years later, there are more pharmacists graduating from colleges of pharmacy in the U.S. than ever before.
There is no question that technological advances in pharmacy have benefited the profession enormously. Despite widespread use of technology in pharmacy—electronic pill counters, electronic prescribing, online adjudication of prescription claims, electronic patient profiles, electronic drug interaction databases, interactive voice response systems, robotic prescription filling, and scores of other wonders—the pharmacist continues to play a vital role in health care. That’s because while technology may make a pharmacist more productive, it simply cannot substitute for the personal, face-to-face consultation that only a pharmacist can deliver to patients. Despite all the technology surrounding them, pharmacists will continue to perform their role as drug specialists, and patients will continue to depend on their personal medication therapy consultations. So when I’m asked if I think technology will ever replace pharmacists, my response is always the same: “Only if pharmacists allow it to happen.”
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