Robot Helps Pharmacists Grow Business, Still Provide Service

AUGUST 01, 2005
Barbara Sax

When Jason Cuaderes, director of pharmacy for the Mays and Med-X divisions of USA Drug, decided to automate some of the chain's pharmacies, he was not looking to replace pharmacists and technicians. He wanted them to have more time to spend with patients.

"We were looking to free up pharmacists' time so they could spend less time performing mundane tasks and more time on cognitive services," he said. "We are a clinically minded chain, so we used a machine to help us grow the business."

The chain decided on the ScriptPro SP 200 system and saw a boost in satisfaction not only in front of the counter, but behind it as well. "It made a big difference right off the bat," said Cuaderes. "Morale among the pharmacists and technicians skyrocketed."

Cuaderes said one of the biggest benefits was the increased accuracy the robot affords pharmacists. Ironclad safety and accuracy is a big selling point for the ScriptPro system, according to ScriptPro's President and CEO Michael Coughlin.

"The SP 200 has no potential for drug cross-contamination, whereas other systems dispense through common pathways and generate pill dust that contaminates the drugs in the system," he said.

Whereas the Med-X store was filling 500 prescriptions a day when it brought in the SP 200, Coughlin said the robot has a big impact on chains that fill a lower prescription volume as well.

"I've seen a report claiming that pharmacy robots are needed only at volumes in excess of 300 to 400 scripts per day, with no cost analysis at all," said Coughlin. "This certainly does not square with our customer base or with our peer group experience. We have customers in the 200-script-per-day range that have reduced filling costs substantially using the robot. Peer group analysis shows that pharmacies can reduce filling costs to around $4 to $5 per script using a robot."

Cost reduction is only part of the benefit of adding a robotic dispensing system. Coughlin said that ScriptPro's state-ofthe- art robotics-based pharmacy management and workflow systems reduce manual dispensing tasks, allowing pharmacists to assume more active roles in medication therapy management. That means more time spent with patients.

While productivity is crucial to any robotic dispensing system, customer service is the bottom line when it comes to making a decision about which system to use. "If the robot is down, nothing else matters," said Coughlin. "Our documented uptime and customer service infrastructure are unparalleled in the industry."

"We recently renewed our leases on all the machines," said Joe Courtright, vice president of operations for Region One of USA Drug. "I sincerely have the highest regard for the customer service department, the installation team, the trainers, and everyone we come in contact with at ScriptPro."

ScriptPro provides an "all-inclusive" customer support package to cover automatic upgrades. "We design product improvements so they can be retrofitted to all units in the field. The first robots we sold in 1997 are operating today with thousands of hardware and software improvements that we've installed under our customer support package," said Coughlin.

"It's really wonderful to have the pharmacy staff tell you how much they like using the robot," said Coughlin. "I recently visited a number of our systems in Rhode Island, and some of the staff that were off duty came in just to tell me how much they liked the system. They were thanking us for helping them do their job better. That really makes you feel good!"

Cuaderes concluded: "The system allowed us to expand our clinical services even in high-volume stores. That's really important to us."

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