Inside This Issue - Opinion
Rite Aid reaps benefits from pharmacy automation
March 12th, 2012
by Tom Rhoads
Rite Aid displays a passion for innovation that raises the bar for all the major chain drug players, even in the face of challenging market and business conditions.
For example, wellness+ recently became the industry’s first loyalty program to offer an online coupon management tool. In September Rite Aid and OptumHealth unveiled NowClinic Online Care at select Rite Aid pharmacies in Detroit. The service enables face-to-face consultations with doctors and nurses via the Internet.
And in its new wellness stores Rite Aid has the wellness ambassador. Armed with iPads, the ambassadors bridge the front end to the pharmacy by offering access to information on over-the-counter products, vitamins and supplements.
Walk the aisles of any Rite Aid store and you can observe the customer experience evolving — but that’s not the only place change is happening. In the pharmacy, initiatives are being put in place to improve work flow and help Rite Aid pharmacists provide even greater care to patients, all while maintaining and sometimes even reducing costs.
But Rite Aid is no stranger to innovation and technology. Among the first to adopt prescription automation in the 1990s, with the goals of improving safety and building a pharmacy of the future, Rite Aid turned to prescription dispensing technology again last year, this time as a catalyst to accelerate operational efficiency.
Robert Thompson, executive vice president of pharmacy at Rite Aid, and Dan Miller, senior vice president of pharmacy operations at the chain, enlisted Parata Systems to collaborate on their laser-focused strategy.
The bottom line: Even in Rite Aid’s already lean labor model, automation returned an incremental 11% in labor savings after just 90 days.
In Thompson and Miller’s view, deploying the right technology was only the beginning. The breakthrough in achieving and surpassing their goals would come from successful integration with and by pharmacy associates. They believed success would depend on reaching beyond basic training to deep associate engagement.
Together, our teams adapted tenets of Parata’s Peak Pharmacy Performance (P3) program to Rite Aid’s culture. P3 drives key performance indicators via change management, best practices and weekly dashboard reporting. Rite Aid’s version gave associates cash rewards for achieving Parata Max utilization of at least 45%; optimizing inventory, measured by a 60% to 90% reduction in on-demand replenishments; and raising customer satisfaction, as measured by Rite Aid. The program spanned 90 days following installation.
Importantly, Thompson and Miller also corralled executive commitment to ensure strong corporate focus on driving the benefits of automation through to the customer.
Rite Aid’s Parata Max sites dispense thousands of prescriptions a week. Automated volume represents about 47%, with approximately 35% coming from non-oral solids or pre-packs. Adding to the net efficiency gains, employee upkeep time averages just 2.3 hours a week. The result? Rite Aid has effectively created a dispensing work flow in which fewer than 20% of all prescriptions are manually dispensed.
Rite Aid ensured store-level transparency to these key performance indicators and empowered those who could most impact their success: the pharmacy associates.
Evidence of the strategy’s efficacy: Pharmacy associates recently rated Max a 5 (on a scale of 1 to 5) for its value to their store’s daily operation, and 100% reported less daily upkeep than with previous automation experiences.
From our vantage point as a Rite Aid business partner, the company’s resurgence comes as no surprise. From the start, we’ve been impressed not only by the vision, collaborative spirit and leadership of Thompson, Miller and their team, but by that of the entire Rite Aid management team. Obviously, Rite Aid’s spirit of innovation is a positive and powerful change agent. But even more so, perhaps, are Rite Aid’s people.
TOM RHOADS is chief executive officer of Parata Systems, a Durham, N.C.-based pharmacy automation provider.