Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will be the next high-paying professions facing the nightmare of technological unemployment.
The PillPick robot manufactured by SwissLog can fill up to 10,000 prescriptions a day, CNBC reported. The custom-designed machines are already widely used in hospital pharmacies. The robots are also faster and more accurate than human pharmacists.
The robots can reduce employment costs in pharmacies, the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center used to use seven technicians and four pharmacists to fill prescriptions. After buying PillPick robots the center was able to do the same job with just two technicians.
Why Robots will take over the Pharmacy
Such automation is likely to catch the attention of retail giants like Kroger (NYSE: KR) which operates 2,231 pharmacies in the United States and Walgreen Boots Alliance (NASDAQ: WBA) which operates 12,755 pharmacies in nine countries. Walgreen also operates 301 distribution centers that service 140,000 pharmacies in 12 countries.
These companies have plenty of incentive to automate because of labor costs. The average pharmacist in the United States made $120,950 a year; or $58.15 an hour, in 2014, according to US News & World Report. The average pharmacy technician made a salary of $29,320 a year in 2012.
Retailers in the United States will be the first to turn to pharmacy robots because they are facing intense competition. At the same time deflation in the form of falling food and gasoline prices is cutting into the profits of retailers like grocers and discounters that also operate pharmacies.
America’s largest retailer, Walmart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT), eliminated 7,000 clerical and accounting positions earlier this year. Many of those jobs were replaced with cash recycling machines and a digital invoice processing system. Those employees were either laid off or demoted to lower-paying retail positions such as stocking shelves.
Since Walmart is a major operator of pharmacies, it is not hard to imagine it installing Pillpick machines and begin laying off pharmacists and techs. Other retail giants like Kroger are likely to follow suit if just to compete with Walmart.