Necessity is the mother ofinvention. The demand forreliable and flexible prescriptiondispensing services has broughtabout many improvements in the areaof pharmacy automation, as the pressureon community pharmacy to staycompetitive remains intense. In response,manufacturers have introduceda series of affordable, scaleddownautomated technologies.
Robotic prescription dispensing systemsare breathing new life into anindustry where time is a luxury andspace is at a premium. Kelly and NancySelby were overwhelmed by the workloadat their community pharmacy inDenton, Tex. "We kept hiring more andmore people, but the workflow becamemore confusing, and we started misplacingscripts,"they said. "We wanteda more professional work environmentand a better place for our customers tocome for their prescriptions."
Their SP 200 from ScriptPro now fillsnearly 50% of their prescriptions, andstress levels in their pharmacy havedropped. "We actually have feweremployees now, but we handle moreprescriptions."
Automation Is Key to Saving Time
The Selbys proactively market theircompounding services to physicians."This is time-consuming,"they said,"but key to developing our business.With ScriptPro handling the bulk ofour workload, we have time for marketingand the compounding it brings in."
Automated dispensing robots takeup roughly the same area as a shelvingunit and work well in environmentswhere space is used to capacity.Lack of space was the problem facedby Peter Koo's New York City pharmacy,Starside Drugs, where traffic washigh and room for expansion was limited."My goal in looking for automationwas to manage the growing scriptvolume without adding employees,"said Koo.
Stress levels and patient care alsowere key considerations. "A hecticenvironment is hard on the staff andnot conducive to customer service,"hesaid. "With the robot filling prescriptions,my staff spends less time counting,more time on customer andpatient service."
Community pharmacy is not theonly area to have benefited from theintroduction of automation. At theUniversity of Texas Cancer OutpatientClinic, the prescription volume wasgrowing by 10% each year, whilecounter space for the expansion ofservices remained unchanged.
Manager Lucy Moyer wanted to giveher pharmacists more time to spend onthe preparation of investigational,injectable, narcotic, and chemotherapydrug prescriptions. "We needed afaster, more efficient method to fill our‘easier'or less challenging prescriptions,"she said.
In fields such as cancer care, theneed for counseling is especiallyimportant. Patients will tap into thepharmacist's knowledge as an additionalresource for information. Inaddition, patients often need a greaterlevel of compassion and understanding.All this requires time. "We wantedto provide excellent customer serviceby reducing wait time but still dedicateone pharmacist to patient counselingand serving our patients'needs at thepharmacy window,"explained Moyer.
She felt the benefits of the SP 200robot immediately: "Our pharmacistshave more time to spend on complicatedprescriptions, on reviewingpatient profiles, and on patient counseling,"she said.
Automation Enhances Safety
Automation is about more than savingtime and optimizing space. The safetyenhancement features add to itsattraction. When coupled with signaturecapture technology, automationenables pharmacists to keep a closertrack of orders, avoiding duplication andincreasing distribution safety standards.
In Harborview Medical Center, Seattle,Wash, an outpatient pharmacyowned by King County and managedby the University of Washington, medicationsafety played a crucial role inthe decision to introduce automation.Supervisor Cyndy Clegg explained:"Our mission population, whichincludes the homeless, non-Englishspeaking poor, substance abusers, andmentally ill patients, can presentunique challenges."
The risk of dispensing a prescriptionmore than once was high in this pressuredenvironment. "We spent tremendousamounts of time looking throughprescription signature logs to makesure a prescription had not alreadybeen dispensed to a patient,"she said."With SP Central's electronic signaturecapture, we can see immediately whopicked up an order."
Safety issues, coupled with a lack ofspace, made Clegg's decision to automatewith ScriptPro an easy one. "Theprescription growth rate in the ambulatorypharmacy is 5% to 10% per year,and our physical space is limited. TheScriptPro system provides maximumproductivity in a restricted space."
Safety also played a key role in Koo'sdecision to introduce automation athis New York City pharmacy. The safetyfeatures of the SP 200 and SP CentralWorkflow have given him greaterpeace of mind. "We leave at the end ofthe day with confidence that we havedispensed accurately,"he said. "With astaff that's not so tired, we have lesschance for human error, too."
The Selbys agreed: "Our accuracy hasincreased dramatically because of thebuilt-in SP 200 safety checks."
Robotic prescription dispensing systemscan be pushed harder than people."We can process 150 prescriptionsin an hour,"said Moyer. Clegg oftenruns her SP 200 24 hours a day, freeingher staff from the mundane tasks ofcounting and filling.
In other industries, automation hasresulted in job losses, as machines performwith more efficiency and at lessexpense than their human counterparts.Yet, in a profession gripped by a shortageof qualified personnel, automationlooks as if it could be a saving grace.
In pharmacy, automation has notinvolved replacing people. Instead ithas enabled the profession to breatheand regroup.
The issue seems to always relate totime. In the Selbys'case, they have thetime to market their business, differentiatingthemselves from their competition.As for Koo, he has been freeing uphis staff to spend more time on patientcare, and the staff at Harborview candispense without having to spend timelooking back through signature logs.
Moyer sums it up perfectly. "Now weare able to use our people for professionaltasks and use our robots fortechnical tasks."
Ms. Jerram is a freelance writer based inLondon, England.