Pharmacies are navigating a transformative period. The idea — and implementation — of pharmacy automation is becoming commonplace, as services such as automated pill counting become increasingly important for pharmacies to evolve, become more efficient and address new, emerging demands. As pharmacies shape a more strategic future through pharmacy automation, they need technology that will evolve with their needs — needs they may not even be aware of currently.
Pharmacies’ day-to-day operations are rapidly shifting from in-house fills to centralized filling equipped with cutting-edge automation. Pill-counting technology is a key component of successful, seamless pharmacy automation that can help improve overall pharmacy efficiency and prescription accuracy, making it possible for pharmacists to focus and spend more time on patient care.
Pharmacy automation tools have indeed come a long way since their inception in the 1960s. In the past, automation tools were “nice to have” solutions, but hardly necessary. Then the COVID-19 pandemic showed pharmacies of every size — not just the larger ones — that they needed to update their automation tools. Suddenly the adoption of solutions exploded, albeit at different paces for different pharmacy sizes.
Today’s pill-counting technology, in particular, can impact your pharmacy’s operational efficiency. Below, I highlight key features you should consider to support your pharmacy’s growth.
• Get automation right with self-monitoring checks and balances — Accuracy is one of the most critical considerations for pharmacies when adopting a pharmacy automation system. Patient well-being is on the line — as are reputation and pharmacists’ licenses.
Look for solutions that include several checks layered throughout the system so the technology can immediately detect inaccuracies, taking a no-compromise approach to pill counting. Ideal solutions should self-monitor and flag errors as they happen. They should also have the ability to be immediately taken offline for maintenance procedures to ensure safety while maintaining throughput efficiency. In this scenario, the dispensing process halts until the issue’s fixed and the system tracks a certain number of successful counts. Systems should also use additional technology such as vision, imaging and weight scales to ensure accuracy.
• Meet the high stakes of pill-counting with efficiency and accuracy — The prescription filling process, which also includes labeling, bottling and capping, is an important but monotonous task. It’s also a task prone to human error when not automated. There’s no margin for error in health care, as patients depend on accurate medication to improve — or, in some cases, sustain — their lives.
Therefore, it’s critical to achieve efficiency without compromising accuracy. Imagine being able to fill a 90-count prescription in 15 to 45 seconds. Some machines even come equipped with count-ahead technology, resulting in an even faster filling rate. Through a parallel process, the machine can work ahead in the background while bottles are filled in real time. That way, by the time a bottle’s filled, another dispense is keyed and waiting.
• Empower pharmacists to make a real human impact through the power of automation — Automation not only increases a pharmacy’s accuracy and safety measures but also frees up pharmacists for more patient interaction.
When filling functions are automated, pharmacists are freed to operate at their highest level — having one-on-one conversations with patients and closely following a patient’s medication journey. This is a critical aspect in the evolution of the pharmacist-patient relationship.
Automation helps create optimal balance in how pharmacists are used at every point of the patient journey by enabling them to exercise their expertise on two planes. Across the counter, pharmacists have more time to spend face-to-face with patients. And when pharmacists can trust the prescription filling process is accurate, their work becomes more efficient. They don’t have to spend time searching for confirmation or accurate details.
Melanie Christie is vice president of product management at CoverMyMeds.