Business Booms for Automated Pharmacy
Phipps Pharmacy has been growing an impressive 33%a year since the business was started 5 years ago byowner/pharmacist Jay Phipps. But there were limitson how many prescriptions the McKenzie, Tenn, store couldfill 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 hisstore 1 year after graduating from pharmacy school. "Togrow the business, I had to [either] hire an additional pharmacistor automate."
Automation seemed like the right option, but Phippsneeded to find a system that would fit into his 800-sq-ftstore. He opted for the Parata RDS, the smallest machine toaccommodate 252 dispensing cells. The system requiresonly 12 sq ft, plugs into a dedicated standard outlet, andquickly integrates into a pharmacy's workflow.
Phipps has been using the system for over a year and ispleased with the results. "Economically, it's a big savings.Half of the machine has already been paid for by deferringanother pharmacist's salary for a year," he said.
One of the biggest benefits of automation, said Phipps, isa spike in productivity. Parata RDS counts 25 tablets a secondand 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 forevery 100 prescriptions automated, giving pharmacists andtechs more time to perform other activities that enhanceproduct safety and compliance.
"Our commitment to patient service is the reason mystore has been so successful," said Phipps. "When volumecontinued to increase, my patients saw me less and less.Now it's easier to spend time talking with patients not onlyabout their medication, but about their lives, which is reallyimportant in a small town."
Automation has also allowed the pharmacy to focus onmore labor-intensive compounding. "We've been expandingour compounding services," said Phipps. "While we used to fill3 compounded prescriptions a week, now we fill 30. That businessnot only provides better margins, it's more satisfying."
Phipps said more free time has enhanced job performancefor his technicians as well. "One of the biggest differences inautomating is the opportunity you can give your staff togrow professionally," he said. "Techs have twice as muchtime to do other duties, like looking at drug interactions andreading about drugs, and that enhances their job performanceand their job satisfaction."
Another huge benefit is increased accuracy. Parata RDS,which is 99.8% accurate, relies on bar coding to ensure thatthe medication on the bottle matches the code on the dispensingcell, eliminating the risk of the wrong medicationbeing 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 canreach 650 prescriptions."
"The one thing I really didn't put into the equation whenconsidering an automation system is the peace of mind youhave at the end of the day, knowing that every prescriptionyou filled is 100% accurate," said Phipps. "I knew the systemwas fast and that it fit my space requirements, but I didn'trealize what a relief it would be to not have to worry aboutwhether or not you got everything right."
Phipps said that accuracy among technician-filled prescriptionshas increased as well. The machine never takes aday off, never stops to go to lunch, and does not need healthinsurance or a 401(k).
Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Ridgewood, NJ.