Right now, medicine’s future might just be sitting behind a curtain on the first floor of the Morsani Center for Advanced Health Care on the University of South Florida Tampa campus.
Stepping into the new USF Health Pharmacy Plus feels a little like walking onto the bridge of a spaceship in a movie: computers and other high-tech devices dot rounded, bright white countertops. Open aisles and pathways dance around circular shelves covered in medicines and other health products.
Green lights shine out from underneath every shelving unit and counter, giving the room a bright glow. On one wall is a desk with a video screen behind it welcoming customers—to the right, a “prescription robot” waits behind a window, waiting to be put into action.
"We’re employing emerging technologies that have never been done in the community pharmacy for patient care," Sneed said. "So the whole issue of talking about, you know, ‘the pharmacy of the future,’ we’re bringing things into practice that you can’t commonly find anywhere."
Those things include that "prescription robot." When a prescription is entered into the system, the computer checks to make sure there are no drug interaction issues or similar problems. It then fills the order with one of 250 different medications inside its storage area.
"One of the main things that we’re trying to make sure that we’re trying to make sure that we do is never have our pharmacists touch a bottle—we don’t want them pouring pills onto a tray and counting by five—they didn’t go to school for six years to learn how to do that," Sneed said.
The computer also takes a picture of the medication before the bottle is labeled and sealed so the pharmacist can compare it to the stock photo of the drug, ensuring the patient is getting the correct medicine.
But Pharmacy Plus is about so much more than just filling prescriptions.
"If you really think about what’s happening now, we need to put a little bit less emphasis on putting a pill in a bottle and put much more emphasis on patient outcome, patient engagement, patient education, patient management," Sneed said.
Take the shelves of devices: wireless scales and blood pressure monitors, watches that track people's activities and sleep patterns. USF Health doctors will actually be "prescribing" these tools and other apps to patients.
"Physicians will send patients down here and we’re going to teach them how to apply all the technologies you see on the wall so that they can become knowledgeable about their own health and become engaged in their health, and hopefully take that information and send it back here so that we can have better clinical decision-making about what they need in terms of more health optimization," Sneed said.
And there’s also the practice of telehealth, where pharmacists will be able to draw everyone involved in a patient’s case together, in person or remotely.
"With the electronic age, we’re able to facilitate that through video conferencing, through email, through everyone has a mobile phone, so telehealth is really just being able to have more avenues to be able to communicate with your health care provider," explained College of Pharmacy student Dominique Nguyen.
Nguyen said this vision of moving medicine forward is what brought him to USF.
"It’s just amazing when what you’re learning in the classroom becomes a reality. And you’re learning about things that seem like it’s from Star Trek: you’re able to take all your vitals from a machine that you just put up to your forehead," he said. "All these things are really amazing and this pharmacy represents the forefront of the technology that’s available out there."
And the cool thing, according to College of Pharmacy student Kevin Cowart, is that the new pharmacy will allow them to apply the things they’ve learned to real-life cases.
"It’s really exciting to be able to come in here and practice everything that we’ve learned in the classroom, being able to go from our first year, we get practice with "standardized" patients," Cowart said. "And then, by our fourth year, we can come here on-site and actually counsel real patients on their medications and their concerns."
Sneed said the pharmacy is the manifestation of a mantra he lives by: “Innovate or evaporate.”
"And we’re not afraid to take advantage of that innovation moment and we’re encouraging our students to take advantage of that innovation moment," he said.
USF Health Pharmacy Plus is scheduled to open by the end of October.