Pharmacy is a recognized part of medical practice dating as far back as Sumerian times, around 2,000 to 1,500 BC, from which cuneiform tablets have been preserved recording prescribed medications. Additionally, a number of ancient Egyptian papyri were introduced on the theoretical aspects of the practice.
Among the best known early pharmacists came around 400 BC. Diocles of Carystus was a Greek member of the “rhizotomoi,” a specialized branch of medical experts on the uses of medicinal plant. During this time, Pedanius Dioscorides wrote a five volume work entitled, “De Materia Medica,” meaning Concerning Medicinal Substances. It is the source for medieval pharmaceutical medicine in Europe, as well as in the Islamic World.
Moving into 750 AD, the first “drug stores” as we know them were established in Baghdad during what is known as the Islamic Golden Age. By 1200 AD drug stores began to move into Europe. Previously, pharmacy was largely practiced in monasteries, where various medicinal plants were cultivated by monks for use inside and outside the monastery. By 1605 AD Louis Herbert, a Parisian who traveled to the New World, became one of the best known pharmacists in the world. He aided explorers and learned of new remedies and new plants from native tribespeople.
Retail pharmacies started popping up in the United States in 1729, with the first one founded in Philadelphia by Irish immigrant Christopher Marshall. The first pharmacy attached to a hospital also came about in Philadelphia shortly after, in 1752. By 1852, the American Pharmaceutical Association, now known as the American Pharmacists Association, was founded. The first attempt to standardize pharmaceutical medicines also was made in this year.
Moving into the 20th century, after World War II, pharmaceutical manufacturing took on a modern, industrialized form in the United States. Electronic prescribing systems began in 1990, used to automate the prescribing, supply and administration of medicines in hospitals. And now, Forbes has stated that being a pharmacist is the “best healthcare job” due in part to a high average salary and projected growth. And, we need them, as there were 44.6 million prescriptions filled at pharmacies in 2014, amounting to a $236 billion dollar industry.
Today, seven out of 10 Americans are taking one or more prescription drugs filled at top retail pharmacy chains such as Walgreens, CVS Health and Rite Aid. The Food and Drug Administration approved 41 new agents in 2014, and the cost of running a pharmacy is projected to increase by 10 percent in 2016.
Looking ahead to the future, pharmacies will be even more technologically advanced, with the use of pharmacy robots, smart packaging and a “smart pill.” The use of automated “robots” are still in their infancy, but smart packaging can be used now. It is a blister pack containing a microchip that is able to monitor when doses are popped out of the package, with data transmitted to a mobile phone or tablet app. Since smart packaging can’t tell if the dose was taken, we can go a step further with a smart pill with a sensor that is ingested by the patient, which can provide information on the dose, heart rate and other variables.
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