SEPTEMBER 01, 2006
Wendy K. Bodine, Assistant Editor, Pharmacy Times

WHEN DECIDING ON A CAREER, pharmacy students might feel that in order to stay on top of advances in pharmacy technology, they must choose between either hospitals or retail chains. They may see their local independent pharmacies as "behind the times." What they do not realize is that more and more independent pharmacies are catching hold of the vision of the future of pharmacy, and part of that vision involves utilizing pharmacy robotics to improve customer service. A survey conducted by the National Community Pharmacists Association showed that 45% of independent pharmacies utilize some kind of automated dispensing system, and the number continues to grow.

The initiation of robotics in the pharmacy has proven to be a great boon to independent pharmacists across the country.Automated pill counters, radio frequency identification, and unit-dose packaging are just some of the advances that are helping independent pharmacies provide a better quality of customer service by freeing them from the manual prescription-filling process. It seems that no workload is too great for the systems, and no pharmacy is too small to benefit from these technological innovations.

Owners and managers know they need to stay on top of the latest advances in pharmacy technology to keep their businesses thriving. Kathryn Hubbard, manager of Hubbard's Pharmacy, Cambridge, Md, says installing a Parata Robotic Dispensing System (RDS) from Parata Systems (Durham, NC) in her store was one of the best things she did. "The robot fills about 55% to 60% of our prescriptions, and has made the atmosphere a lot more pleasant because we know those prescriptions are being filled correctly 100% of the time," she said.

Hubbard also said it was well worth the initial cost of the machine for the extra peace of mind the pharmacists now have. "It takes off some of the burden, freeing them up to counsel patients on medications and not rush through filling other prescriptions," she said. Hubbard was especially glad to have the machine in place before Medicare Part D kicked in. "The robot was filling prescriptions while the pharmacists were on the phone with insurance companies. Our productivity didn't slow down [during that time]," she said. Hubbard is grateful to have the system in place so that her pharmacists can continue to give their customers the personal attention they have come to expect from their local pharmacy.

A robotics system is an ideal helpmate that can add leverage for independent pharmacies by freeing employees'time to focus on other challenges of pharmacy. Not only can a robotics system increase production, it can also help pharmacies keep the personal rapport they have with their customers.

Debbie Richmond, RPh, co-owner of Bruce Smith Drugs (Prairie Village, Kan), said that the ScriptPro (SP) 200 and SP Central Workflow System, both from ScriptPro (Mission, Kan), that were added to her pharmacy took over most of the tedious counting and labeling tasks, increased efficiency, and brought precision and order to the remaining dispensing processes. She added, "Our customers are happier because of our increased efficiency and accuracy." Richmond also pointed out the cost-efficiency aspect of having a robot on staff. "In the industry, margins on prescriptions are being squeezed. SP has helped us keep dispensing costs down and reduce operating costs," she said. Recently, Richmond added the SP Unit Dispenser (SPUD) to her system, which is updated regularly by SP, and is more than happy with its performance. The unit dispensing machine helps her with maintaining inventory control and automatically loads, stores, and delivers unit-of-use medications.

These companies are able to provide independent pharmacies in any stage of development with the technology that can help them enhance customer service, increase prescription accuracy, and keep their business flowing smoothly.

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