Automation Helps Pharmacies Improve Sales and Service

Author: Wendy K. Bodine, Assistant Editor

The use of robotics in pharmacy has grown considerably over the past several years. In the beginning, robotics technology was used only in high-volume pharmacies and stores that were simple to modify, because of the large amount of floor space the units occupied. In just a few years, however, robotic dispensing units have become smaller in size, more adaptable, and less costly, opening up technology opportunities to more varieties of pharmacies.

AmerisourceBergen
AmerisourceBergen Corp, based in Valley Forge, Pa, has been providing quality automated medication dispensing since 1993. The company's AutoMed encompasses pharmacy automation, medication dispensing and packaging, and efficiency solutions for all types and sizes of pharmacies. The company's Telepharmacy Solutions help bring pharmacy services to remote areas that need them and do not have a physical pharmacy for patients to visit. MedSelect is the company's line of automated medication-dispensing units that provides a more complete line of offerings to AmerisourceBergen's Technology Group.

AmerisourceBergen's flagship offering for pharmacy automation is the AutoMed Efficiency Pharmacy, which can be customized to meet the needs of just about any pharmacy. The products offered within the AutoMed spectrum include modular, scalable components that can be configured to fit various pharmacy specifications. Additional modules can be easily added onto the base system as the pharmacy's business grows. AutoMed also provides guidance on getting maximum production from any pharmacy, with minimum spacing and store disruption. The company offers software that integrates with the pharmacy's information system to help decrease the likelihood of medication errors, through the use of image and bar-code-scan verification and dispensing.

Studies conducted by the Thomsen Group Inc in 2 pharmacies showed dramatically how the AutoMed system can increase a pharmacy's productivity in a short time. Each pharmacy was supplied with an appropriately sized AutoMed Efficiency Pharmacy system, based on the total number of prescriptions processed daily. After only 3 months, both pharmacies showed an increase in private-label sales by up to 36%, a decrease in fill time of up to 57%, and approximately a 67% increase in counseling time with patients. The study also showed that sales increased throughout the stores, not just at the pharmacy, as a result of increased productivity in the pharmacy department.

AutoMed offers a variety of robotic dispensing systems to help pharmacies maximize their prescription-volume output with minimum business disruption. The Efficiency Pharmacy machines can process anywhere from 100 to more than 800 prescriptions during a 10-hour shift, and the larger machines can prepare more than 200 filled, labeled prescriptions per hour. AutoMed also offers FastFill and QuickFill systems for fast, efficient filling of prescriptions for the most widely used medications.

"The biggest factor to consider ? is that automation brings the pharmacist from behind the counter to deliver better personal service and pharmacy management to focus on revenue-generating projects," according to an AmerisourceBergen representative. "This can give [pharmacies] a sharp competitive edge. Competitive edge drives more business."

QS/1 Data Systems
QS/1, based in Spartanburg, SC, is a division of the J M Smith Corp, which was founded in 1944. In 1977, the company recognized the need for specific software and hardware packages for health care professionals that were designed to help provide more efficient care for pharmacy patients. The result was the QS/1 Pharmacy System, which became a separate division in 1990. QS/1 provides products, services, and support to a variety of health care providers, with a primary focus on providing pharmacy-management software for more than 8000 community pharmacies, chain pharmacies, longterm care pharmacies, and home medical-equipment providers.

Now known as NRx, the QS/1 Pharmacy System was designed for the retail pharmacy market. NRx Pharmacy Management Software provides a simple raphical user interface, which helps expedite the processing of new prescriptions and refills. The system, which is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, aids pharmacy staff members with processing claims, customizing reports, managing inventory, and maintaining and updating patient and medication information. The staff can train on the system with on-screen context-sensitive help and a variety of training options.

Dick Bradley, RPh, pharmacy consulting manager for QS/1, explained that the company had learned from focus groups and customer counseling what pharmacies were looking for from automation to help them deal with growing volume. He said that pharmacies have "gotten so busy with baby boomers bringing in new prescriptions ? [that sometimes it's] just impossible to keep up with the volume. If you can get automation [in the pharmacy], it really helps if you're filling 200 or more prescriptions a day."

One of QS/1's services is the Web site CornerDrugstore.com. Founded originally as an initiative of the National Community Pharmacists Association and acquired in 2002 by J M Smith, the site aims to serve the Internet needs of the independent pharmacy and the regional chain pharmacy markets. The site was designed to help pharmacists establish a presence on the Internet by allowing them to offer online refills and health care content to their patients, as well as store-specific information. Online refills are integrated with QS/1's pharmacy-management software for quick and efficient prescription processing. CornerDrugstore.com provides reliable health care content that is accessible to patients day or night to supplement patient counseling. The company's latest offering is the QS/1 Dispensing Machine (QDM), which helps automate the dispensing of a pharmacy's top-selling drugs. The QDM can count multiple drugs at the same time and precount minimum quantities for ready dispensing.

ScriptPro
ScriptPro LLC, headquartered in Mission, Kan, was founded in 1994, based on technology concepts that were developed at Kansas State University. Mike Coughlin, president and chief executive officer of ScriptPro, was looking for ways to expand the use of robotics in the public arena. Toward that end, he presented the company's ideas to pharmacy focus groups to have them look at the application of robotics in pharmacy. What he found was strong positive feedback from the study participants, who confirmed the need for automation in pharmacy and offered advice on what the automation should do to make the pharmacist's job easier.

The first practical application of ScriptPro automation took place in 1997 in the outpatient pharmacy at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. There, an independent evaluation group followed the field test, and they saw that the robot made a positive difference in medication safety and accuracy. It helped the staff members keep up with their workload and allowed the pharmacists more time with patients.

Coughlin explained that the company focuses on 3 fundamental technologies: robotics technology for filling prescriptions; work-flow technology for getting work done in the pharmacy; and telepharmacy. He said that these technologies can be packaged in a variety of ways to meet the needs of any pharmacy. ScriptPro is always "tightening packaging so the customer has one source of support for all their systems. Many systems are not that user-friendly, ? [but] using [our] system, the pharmacist doesn't have to be a computer whiz."

A survey conducted by Kaiser Permanente Colorado Region showed that the use of ScriptPro's automated dispensing technology significantly improved the rate of pharmacy efficiency and patient satisfaction.

Another study looked at the use of the SP 200 Robotic Prescription Dispensing System and the SP Central Workflow Management System at the Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham, NC. In the 12 months after the installation of the ScriptPro technology, pharmacy staff processed 6.2% more prescriptions and then processed 25.6% more the following year. Efficiency at the pharmacy increased by 20% over that same 2-year period. The systems incorporate reporting tools that allow the pharmacy to objectively evaluate the best use of staff time, which medicines should be added to the system, and which days and times are busiest for filling prescriptions. According to Dale Adamczyk, RPh, managing pharmacist at an Aurora Pharmacy in South Milwaukee, Wis, "The ScriptPro robot has reduced response time to our patients and increased our production, allowing us additional time and opportunity to provide customer service."

Conclusion
Pharmacies of any size can benefit from the addition of automation. Even though the initial expense may seem off-putting, the benefits of saving both pharmacists and patients valuable time make it a worthwhile investment.