/publications/issue/2005/2005-08/2005-08-9798

Business Booms for Automated Pharmacy

Author: Barbara Sax

Phipps Pharmacy has been growing an impressive 33% a year since the business was started 5 years ago by owner/pharmacist Jay Phipps. But there were limits on how many prescriptions the McKenzie, Tenn, store could fill with 3 techs and 1 pharmacist on staff.

"In Tennessee, we have a 3-to-1 tech-to-pharmacist ratio, and 1 tech has to be certified," said Phipps, who opened his store 1 year after graduating from pharmacy school. "To grow the business, I had to [either] hire an additional pharmacist or automate."

Automation seemed like the right option, but Phipps needed to find a system that would fit into his 800-sq-ft store. He opted for the Parata RDS, the smallest machine to accommodate 252 dispensing cells. The system requires only 12 sq ft, plugs into a dedicated standard outlet, and quickly integrates into a pharmacy's workflow.

Phipps has been using the system for over a year and is pleased with the results. "Economically, it's a big savings. Half of the machine has already been paid for by deferring another pharmacist's salary for a year," he said.

One of the biggest benefits of automation, said Phipps, is a spike in productivity. Parata RDS counts 25 tablets a second and fills a prescription in 20 seconds, including labeling, filling, capping, and sorting by patient last name.

Parata estimates the system frees 4.5 hours of staff time for every 100 prescriptions automated, giving pharmacists and techs more time to perform other activities that enhance product safety and compliance.

"Our commitment to patient service is the reason my store has been so successful," said Phipps. "When volume continued to increase, my patients saw me less and less. Now it's easier to spend time talking with patients not only about their medication, but about their lives, which is really important in a small town."

Automation has also allowed the pharmacy to focus on more labor-intensive compounding. "We've been expanding our compounding services," said Phipps. "While we used to fill 3 compounded prescriptions a week, now we fill 30. That business not only provides better margins, it's more satisfying."

Phipps said more free time has enhanced job performance for his technicians as well. "One of the biggest differences in automating is the opportunity you can give your staff to grow professionally," he said. "Techs have twice as much time to do other duties, like looking at drug interactions and reading about drugs, and that enhances their job performance and their job satisfaction."

Another huge benefit is increased accuracy. Parata RDS, which is 99.8% accurate, relies on bar coding to ensure that the medication on the bottle matches the code on the dispensing cell, eliminating the risk of the wrong medication being dispensed.

"The machine has never made a mistake," said Phipps. "Even on the busiest days our wait time is only 15 minutes, even on the busiest Mondays when prescription volume can reach 650 prescriptions."

"The one thing I really didn't put into the equation when considering an automation system is the peace of mind you have at the end of the day, knowing that every prescription you filled is 100% accurate," said Phipps. "I knew the system was fast and that it fit my space requirements, but I didn't realize what a relief it would be to not have to worry about whether or not you got everything right."

Phipps said that accuracy among technician-filled prescriptions has increased as well. The machine never takes a day off, never stops to go to lunch, and does not need health insurance or a 401(k).

Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Ridgewood, NJ.