The next person who fills your prescription might not be a person at all.
Walgreens recently opened its fourth microfulfillment center since last year. Prescriptions are filled at a warehouse using automation, then brought to the pharmacy for you to pick up.
“So this is really one way to use less inventory to achieve the same service level,” said Tinglong Dai, a professor of operations management and business analytics at Johns Hopkins University.
He said microfulfillment centers not only help ease supply chain issues, but also labor shortages. He said the pharmacy industry has been moving toward automation for a while, but COVID-19 accelerated it.
“They have an infrastructure that and a lot of things have been digitalized in the past few decades, so is really ripe for changes,” Dai said.
COVID-19 also has pharmacists doing things other than filling prescriptions. Dai said this shift frees up pharmacists to do more of those things for you.
Walgreens said it currently fills about 20 percent of prescriptions at microfulfillment centers. It hopes to eventually get to half. Dai said it's likely more pharmacies will follow.