By Dwight deVera
All pharmacy professionals believe one prescription error is one too many. Increasingly, the practice of pharmacy is focused away from the primary functions of filling prescriptions and counseling patients. The reality is that ancillary, but still consequential, activities are consuming valuable time and resources during a retail pharmacist’s day. These activities include calling doctors and insurance companies, completing paperwork, managing staff, keeping up with efficiency quotas and keeping compliant with regulations like RCRA, DSCSA and USP<800>.
Additionally, the current state of the pharmacy business has chain pharmacies aggressively competing for fewer reimbursement dollars. The opposing forces of having to do more with less are generating cost pressures that are further aggravated due to competition from online and specialty providers and the restrictive nature of prescription drug plan policies. This mix of factors is devolving the modern chain pharmacy into a chaotic workplace with an environment that can make it challenging to do the job safely.
From a patient perspective, the pharmacy is oftentimes the location where consumers first find out about the true out-of-pocket cost of their medications. This results in the pharmacy staff adding an unwanted role as the bearer of bad news and counselor to patients about the out-of-pocket costs of prescription medications. Unfortunately, pharmacy staff have a front-row seat to decisions people have to make about choosing between medications and potentially compromising care for themselves or people they care about.
Technology and automation provide solution
New technology and automation in a pharmacy setting can increase throughput and dispensing capacity, automate repetitive processes and, more importantly, reduce errors, improve patient safety and drive greater customer satisfaction. Examples of new technology and automation include robotic counting and packaging technologies that, when used alongside digital prescription automation, can significantly reduce the number of calls that pharmacy staff need to make. New promotional technologies have the ability to offer programs and discounts to patients to alleviate some of the costs of medications. Finally, cloud-based SaaS solutions can improve pharmacy financial reconciliation and ensure the pharmacy is compliant with regulatory requirements related to DSCSA, Drug Recalls, USP<800> and RCRA.
As an example of the type of conflict that can develop in the pharmacy when technology is involved, recently enacted USP<800> regulations limit a pharmacy’s ability to utilize automated counting systems due to the hazardous nature of some pharmaceutical drugs. Another has the incorporation of 2D barcodes in drug packaging, rendering tens of thousands of pharmacy scanners obsolete.
In many instances, adoption of individual point-based technology from separate vendors within a single pharmacy has created a mix of best-of-breed solutions that — while initially showing promise — has, over the long term, proven to be less than optimal for enabling overall productivity and ensuring maximum efficiency.
When evaluating technology partners, it’s crucial to not only assess the compatibility of proposed solutions with existing systems, but to also evaluate the solution providers’ overall strategy and road map for the future. The best solutions providers are the ones that can articulate a vision of interoperability for their existing offerings and portray clearly how they will improve pharmacy operations in the future.
Retail pharmacy is changing as a business, and this change is driving the transformation of pharmacy operations. With more change on the horizon, the role that pharmacies will play in the future of health care delivery will be in a state of flux for some time to come.
The continued adoption of new technologies and health care delivery models — e.g., pharmacy prescribing, telemedicine, etc. — will expand the pharmacy’s role well beyond that of simply being a retail location for the dispensing of medication. Instead, pharmacies will come to comprise an integrated component of the entire health care delivery ecosystem, and the choices made today around technology and supplier partnerships will have a long-term effect on the results retail pharmacy will have in the future.
Dwight deVera is senior director of product strategy at Inmar Intelligence.