Sustainability Toward the Intersection of Pharmacy Technology and Its Future

Category: Pharmacy Advances Written by Dr. Charles Shively / February 20, 2017

How Is It We Are?

Where were we with pharmacy automation and pharmacy technology ten even five years ago? Can you recall? I do and it is such a success story. As pharmacists, we are ascending a very special path toward sustainability for independent pharmacy profitability. Why? Those independent pharmacies owners who have embraced newer technologies know this. Many large retail chains are even adopting the independent pharmacy learnings. How do we know independent pharmacy is on a special ascension?

We are Advancing! Pharmacy Automation is a Magnet for Success

The pharmacy automation and pharmacy workflow technology ascent is amazing. Pharmacy automation, robotics, integrated software automated will-call systems, improved pharmacy operational management software, patient engagement software for medication synchronization and five-star rating performance among others…these are like magnets drawing profitability opportunities to those owners who have the technologies. There are so many options today not available just five years ago. Is your pharmacy in tune with the new universe of success?

Pharmacy Owner and Pharmacist PIC comments captured during the 2013 to 2016 Healthcare Advocate Tours and interviews with the 2017 America’s Pharmacy Tour (just initiated) reflect the advances by pharmacy toward the importance that their patient/customers know and expect. These are shared within this commentary.

Let’s not muck about! (Australian and British expression for hesitation and procrastination). Pharmacy automation and technology is at its intersection with the future. Agree?

If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now

Flash back to 1990, just 27 years ago. As pharmacists, we did not have robotic filling machines or automated retrieval (will-call) systems and integrated pharmacy software with the ability to alert us to many of the necessary daily activities now mandated by pharmacy benefit managers and insurers. Pharmacists were not involved with interactive voice retrieval, HIPAA, medication therapy management, medication synchronization, compliance packing, five-star ratings, adherence tracking, electronic prior authorization, meaningful use, value-based payments (as opposed to fee for service), local systems for patient electronic healthcare records, fully integrated pharmacy workflow, mobile apps, QR codes, ScriptChek labels and the list goes on…and on!

The Future Began for Some Pharmacies as Early as 1939

For those pharmacies and pharmacists (some having been in business since 1939) that became involved with various RxMedic robotics and automated technologies as early as 2008 and subsequently integrated with QS1 pharmacy operational software (first offered to independent pharmacies in 1985), many operational software companies including QS1 (Rx30, Pioneer and others) began designing and offering to pharmacists and pharmacies unique…and additive patient engagement abilities… to serve their patient/customer population. Many pharmacy robotics organizations joined this early RxMedic advance (Parata, ScriptPro, DOSIS, SynMed, Eyecon, Kirby-Lester and others) for both more efficient and faster throughput during pharmacy workflow activities to help improve ROI and cash flow while better serving the patient/customer population.

The Elk Pharmacy Began Business Almost 80 Years Ago

While visiting the Elk Pharmacy in Elkin, North Carolina owned by Larry Owen, during a recent America’s Pharmacy Tour (www.AskDrs.org ), sitting in the center of the prescription filling area was Roberta, the automated filling robot from RxMedic. Larry offered that Roberta seems to “sing” with excitement about supporting the community’s prescription needs. With the new role of pharmacists being actually insurance-adjusters…due to continuing prescription-payer challenges… Roberta is a major resource for our efforts. She gives us time to complete sometimes lengthy investigations of insurance rejections for our life-time patient-customers. Even Roberta senses our stress and pressure to do more sometimes…she wants to fill faster.”

How Did The Use of Pharmacy Automation Happen?

Customers Expect Automated Pharmacy Dispensing in Hummelstown, PA

David and Jeanne Lutz, owners of the Rhoads Pharmacy and Gift Shop in Hummelstown, PA know how to be successful in business. This 16,000 square foot operation is dedicated to patient and customer health and satiety…and the over 350 customers a day to this downtown Hummelstown location ( 17 West Main Street) have become accustomed to the latest technologies utilized by the operation.

“Our customers expect us to be leading pharmacy practice in this region. They value the latest technologies we have in place and how we use these technologies to effect the quickest and accurate filling with best pricing for their medications” says David, a long time pharmacist and technology advocate. It is quickly apparent that David and his wife Jeanne thrive on the customer appreciation they receive as they deliver superior customer service to their extended area family. The appreciation is well-deserved. The Rhoads Pharmacy robot is named “Flo”.

Rhoads Pharmacy and Gift Shop

Risk and Reward Go Hand in Hand in Ellijay, Georgia

Risk versus reward? Huff’s Pharmacy in Ellijay has moved five (5) times since its inception in 1949 following World War II with the most recent in 2009. Owner Steven Purvis shared: “When I first got involved with part-ownership of Huff’s we were doing 100 scripts per day. Today we fill upwards of seven hundred (700) prescriptions on Mondays and Wednesdays with five hundred (500) or so other days of the week. We are open only a ½ day on Saturday and closed on Sunday. We owe our efficiency and success to “ Spencer the Dispenser”, our RxMedic ADS.

Dispensing Prescriptions As Opposed to Dispensing Knowledge

“We put everything we have into serving the patient/customers. Growth has occurred due to serving to the extreme our patient/customers. Today’s largest challenge is not quickly dispensing medications---rather dispensing our knowledge. Few pharmacies operate with this philosophy and few pharmacy school graduates enter their first positions with this awareness. Taking risks is almost an impossible consideration for new graduates and entrenched pharmacies with most independent pharmacist owners today due to their prior decisions. Rewards for the risk to be taken are typically not factored into the next opportunity (challenge)?”

Huff’s Pharmacy Staff in Ellijay, Georgia

Is Pharmacy Workflow An Art Form in Reidsville, North Carolina?

This pharmacy can write the manual on pharmacy workflow. Consider the following. The Carolina Apothecary pharmacy workflow, designed by Melissa Cross (Pharmacy Operations Manager) and Nathan “Nate” Hemberg, (Pharmacist-in-Charge), demonstrates how efficiency can exist in such a busy operation. Frankly, they can write the “pharmacy workflow book” for other pharmacy owners with high volumes should they wish to do so. By integrating a 256 cell RxMedic ADS into their workflow which supports up to 14 staff members at any one time, this pharmacy fills 1100 scripts/day in a 600 square foot prescription area that also houses a medication inventory on 600 linear feet of shelf space. No drug used in the pharmacy is more than 6 feet from the main counter. Regina, the automated pharmacy filling robot centrally located, allows continuous efficiency and quickness in meeting patient/customer needs.

The Carolina Pharmacy Staff in Reidsville, North Carolina

Merritt Island, Florida Knows New Pharmacy Technology

“The RxMedic Automated Retrieval System (ARS) and our RX30 pharmacy management operating system work together seamlessly. The prescription filling and point of sale delivery for our customers, due to the integration of the ARS within our RX30 workflow, creates a comfort for our pharmacists and technicians. We avoid patient delivery errors.” These comments from Eric Russo, one of the two pharmacists in charge at Hobbs Pharmacy in Merritt Island, Florida (Mark Hobbs is the other PIC), were captured during the last stop of the 2016 Healthcare Advocate Tour (www.AskDrS.org). Recall the phrase “Save the best for last”?

Hobb’s Pharmacy in Merritt Island, Florida

Where Does Pharmacy Automation and Technology Intersect the Future?

Various marketing research organizations who assess pharmacy automation and technology growth believe pharmacy has already begun the ascent to meeting the future. The sales numbers below represent the pharmacy technology increases in six categories: Automated Medication Filling, Automated Medication Dispensing, Storage and Retrieval Systems, Table Top Counters, Automated Packaging/Labeling and Automated Compounding Systems.

Consider the following data derived from various market research sources. In 2011 the global pharmacy automation and technology sales were $4.7 billion with the pharmacy automation market estimated to hit $7.8 Billion by 2018 and $ 8.99 Billion by 2020. North America leads these investments in pharmacy automation followed by Europe. Automated pharmacy dispensing represents nearly 50% of total sales. Pharmacy retail represents approximately 50% of these sales estimates with hospitals being second.

An Ascension to the Future

In general this growth toward the future is about dispensing the right medication and dosage, reviewing the inventory to help increase the workflow efficiency, delivery to the patient/customer and improving cash flow following cost/benefit analysis.
But what really drives this meeting of pharmacy technology to the intersection of the future? It is the following: Cost Benefit Analysis, Cost Reduction, Medication Error Reduction, Efficiency of Pharmacy Workflow, System Integration, Productivity, and recall the phrase “Another Eight Hours Please”?

As offered by Steve Wubker, President/CEO of Transaction Data Systems (dba Rx30) at the recent Inspire 2017 Conference for Rx30 pharmacy operational system owners during late January 2017 in Orlando, Florida: “Do the things today that others do not so that tomorrow you can do the things that others cannot.” Well said!

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