The year is 2116 and Mr. Smith approaches the counter of his local ABC Pharmacy. There are no lines as he casually moves into one of the open booths and seats himself into a comfortable and private dispensing chamber. Air conditioned, with pleasant music playing in the background the cyber-pharmacy screen lights up as he is greeted by the video-pharmacist welcoming him to ABC.

After tapping the screen to answer a few questions and inserting his driver’s license and credit card into the device, an on-screen pharmacist begins to address him personally. “Thank you [pause] Mr. Smith for choosing ABC pharmacy.We see that you have [pause] 1 new prescription and [pause] 2 refill prescriptions awaiting pickup.Is that correct?” After a few more touches to the screen, including an offer to counsel, Mr. Smith’s prescriptions arrive in the transport tube for him to take.

Impossible? Hardly. More than that, the entire process behind the scenes in which the prescription was electronically received from the doctor’s office and prepared was entirely handled by robots, as well. One human, possibly a pharmacist – but maybe not – stands alone in the safe, secure and sealed computer-filled room behind the scenes ensuring that all systems are running smoothly.

In fact, a recent article listed pharmacists as the No. 1 job to be replaced by robots, based in part on a 2011 UCSF Medical Center implementation of robot-controlled pharmacy that delivered 350,000 perfectly filled prescriptions during the roll out. In a separate UCSF news article, CEO of the Medical Center Mark Laret commented, “We are intent on finding new ways to improve the quality and safety of our care, while increasing patient satisfaction.The automated pharmacy helps us achieve that and at the same time, advance our mission as a leading teaching hospital and research institution.”

Of course, pharmacy automation is hardly a new idea. For example, retail and mail-order pharmacies doing high-volume dispensing have long relied on robotic systems to handle the routine filling of many of the most common prescriptions. But until now, such innovation has generally evolved side by side with pharmacists and technicians who are still needed to manage a significant portion of the process. With the baby boomers now moving into retirement, this population bubble needed the added support of technology to handle the filling of all their prescription needs.

But, with shrinking prescription margins and high salaries to cope with, pharmacies are inevitably looking to push the technology to the limit in order to save payroll dollars and remain competitive. Not only that, but the comprehensive knowledge obtainable by means of computer-aided dispensing could give patients the medication education they want, but many pharmacies simply don’t have the time to provide.

As a pharmacist who has been actively working in this industry since the days when we literally typed out prescription labels on a typewriter, it is hard to imagine this profession being entirely replaced by robotics. Those of us who manage the numerous issues related to third-party billing, failed computer systems and inaccurately written prescriptions, not to mention the number and variety of patient concerns and questions, see that we have a long way to go before the iPharmacists take over.

However, that day may not be as far away as we think.

“Mr. Smith, thank you for filling your prescription with ABC pharmacy today.Also, our Health-Chair 1200 that you were sitting in has detected you have [pause] lost [pause] 2 pounds since your last pickup. Congratulations. Keep up the good work.”