By Jo Pugh •
Updated: 20 Sep 2023 • 9:29
The automated pharmacies could be placed in any location. Credit: Grab2Go/Facebook
An Estonian company, Grab2Go, has developed an autonomous robotic pharmacy that operates 24/7, potentially transforming healthcare accessibility in Europe.
Launched in March, this technology enables patients to purchase prescriptions and over-the-counter medications via a touchscreen interface and engage in video consultations with pharmacists.
The robotic hardware within the pharmacy is responsible for dispensing patient orders, while artificial intelligence (AI) analyses sales data to ensure adequate stock levels are maintained. One of the key advantages of Grab2Go’s solution is its ability to address labour shortages in the pharmacy sector.
Mart Viilipus, CEO and co-founder of Grab2Go, told Euronews that the shortage of pharmacists in Europe is a significant issue, and their autonomous system allows a single pharmacist to oversee multiple stores, significantly improving efficiency.
Numerous European countries, including France, grapple with a chronic shortage of pharmacists, with up to two-thirds of French pharmacies lacking adequate staffing, according to the Federation of Pharmaceutical Unions of France (FSPF).
When asked about the potential intensification of work for pharmacists covering multiple outlets, Viilipus argued that automation liberates pharmacists from mundane tasks, enabling them to concentrate on the crucial aspect of their profession: professional consultation.
The adoption of automation raises fundamental questions about the future organisation of large pharmacy chains with numerous stores. With remote systems, pharmacists can theoretically centralise their operations and manage geographically dispersed locations.
Viilipus also highlighted the substantial cost savings associated with their technology, asserting that retailers can potentially reduce labour costs by up to 75 per cent. However, concerns persist regarding the impact of automation on the tens of thousands of support staff who assist pharmacists in traditional stores.
Grab2Go’s robotic pharmacy units can be integrated into existing retail locations or operate as standalone stores, particularly in underserved remote areas. While the initial cost of these units ranges from €100,000 to €200,000, Grab2Go claims they can recoup this investment within a year due to cost savings.
The technology has undergone rigorous testing and safety checks, earning regulatory approval from Estonian authorities. Given the delicate nature of dispensing medications, Grab2Go has implemented measures to ensure patient safety, including real-time monitoring of the dispensing process via cameras.
Despite the benefits of digitalisation, concerns have been raised about potential exclusion of less technologically literate groups, such as the elderly, from vital services like healthcare.
After introducing the autonomous pharmacy in Estonia this year, Mart Viilipus reported that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, suggesting that Grab2Go’s innovation holds the promise of improving healthcare access across Europe.
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Jo Pugh is a journalist based in the Costa Blanca North. Originally from London, she has been involved in journalism and photography for 20 years. She has lived in Spain for 12 years, and is a dedicated and passionate writer.
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