IVR Alleviates Pharmacies' Phone Time

Pharmacy Times, Volume 0, 0

One feature of pharmacies is theincessant ringing of the telephone.Although pharmacistspride themselves on handling phone callspersonally, the rising number of phoneinterruptions takes time away frompatient counseling, filling prescriptions,and the daily operation of a pharmacy. Isthere a solution?

New Jersey-based TeleManager TechnologiesInc and Florida-based Voice-Tech have developed Interactive VoiceResponse (IVR) systems to help smallchain, independent, and outpatient hospitalpharmacies maximize productivitywithout always having a phone attachedto their ear.

TeleManager offers pharmacies 2 IVRsystems: the stand-alone In-Store IVRSystem and the On-Demand IVR Service.Paul Kobylevsky, vice president and chiefoperating officer, said that systems makelife easier for the pharmacist and thepatient, as well as increasing productivity.The In-Store IVR system improves theprescription-fulfillment process. The systemintegrates with pharmacy systemsto maximize prescription output andaccuracy, features a graphical interfacethat minimizes pharmacist training andusage time, and includes call-routingcapabilities to enhance patient care. Afully integrated storewide phone systemis optional.

The On-Demand IVR Service providesall the advantages of a traditional IVRwithout investment, installation, or maintenanceagreements. The service allowspharmacy staff members to answerphones when they are available. Therefore,pharmacies pay only for what theyuse. When a patient or prescriber callsthe pharmacy and the phone is notanswered, the call is handled by thecompany's central IVR host and is seamlesslyrouted back to the pharmacy. Thesystem can be integratedwith a pharmacy'smanagement system orused on a stand-alonebasis.

Registered PharmacistHoward Shulman ofKeansburg Drugs reportedthat he "wouldn't bewithout" TeleManager'sIn-Store IVR system. Thepharmacy, located inKeansburg, NJ, fills approximately400 scriptsa day. "I have a very busypharmacy, and [IVR]sounded like the rightthing to do to get us offthe phone," he saidabout installing the system>4 years ago.

Shulman explained that the systemprovides many benefits for patients.Patients can refill a prescription any timeof the day, and the refill request is immediatelysent to the pharmacy's computersystem. Using the system, patients canlet the pharmacy know whether the prescriptionwill be picked up or delivered,and they can leave messages for thepharmacy staff. Physicians can leavemessages on the IVR, as well as faxing orelectronically transmitting prescriptions.

Shulman also uses the system to automaticallygenerate reminder calls aboutprescriptions due to be filled. In an effortto cut back on the number of prescriptionsleft at the pharmacy, the systemwill generate pickup reminder calls.Keansburg Drugs sends out reminders at4, 8, and 12 days. The graphical userinterface allows the pharmacy to sortprescriptions in different ways, as well aslogging every call into the pharmacy. Forexample, if a patient calls the pharmacy3 or 4 times and hangs up, Shulman willsee the calls on the log report. This reportprovides an opportunity for Shulman todo a follow-up call to determine whetherthere are any problems or to answer anypatient concerns.

Boston Medical Center's 2 outpatientpharmacy locations have found greatsuccess with TeleManager's In-Store IVRSystem. The volume of calls wastremendous at the 850 Harrison Avenueand the 88 East Newton Street sites,according to Registered Pharmacist JohnBertolami, director of pharmacy for outpatientsat the hospital. Between the 2locations, the pharmacy would get>4000 calls a month handled by 3 operators.The IVR system replaced the operatorsand reduced the number of calls toquestions from patients.

Bertolami said that the IVR allowsphysicians to record their prescriptionsin the system 24 hours a day every day.In English and Spanish, patients canorder refills at any time, and the scriptsgo directly into the computer system. Hesaid that one of the system's many featuresis the ability to record messages forthe public and for physicians. A currentmessage, for example, informs physiciansthat telephone prescriptions arenot accepted during physician and clinicalhours. All prescriptions must be faxedor electronically transmitted.

"We're trying to get prescriptionsfaxed or electronically prescribed to cutdown on possible errors. IVR is a greatway to get a message across," commentedBertolami.

Tim Garofalo, president of Voice-Tech, said, "Our original purpose forour system was to use it as a tool tooff-load phone traffic." Because >90%use IVR in chains, Voice-Tech servesthe small chains and independents. Hesaid, however, that many independentsthink that IVR is just a system thatanswers the phone. Voice-Tech tries tocorrect this misconception by educatingpharmacists on the advantages ofan IVR system.

The foundation of the company'ssolutions has been the TelephoneRefills/IVR. The telephone-refill functionallows callers to submit prescription-refill orders that post directly tothe work queue of the pharmacy. Themodule can be configured as a refillhot line only, answer only after 3 or 4rings, or answer all the pharmacy lines."[Pharmacists] were dumbfoundedwhen I told them it didn't have toanswer all the calls," explainedGarofalo.

The company recently launched amodular approach for its communicationsolutions. Now pharmacies canchoose whichever product (or products)fits their needs. The solutionsinclude the following:

  • Doctor Fax Authorization—the moduleworks every time a patiententers a refill that requires authorization.
  • Rx-Pickup—helps the pharmacycontrol the prescriptions in the "will-call" bins. The module activatesautomated outbound reminder callsto patients to tell them that theirprescription refill is ready.
  • Internet Refill Solution—allows apatient to request prescription refillsvia the pharmacy's Web site. Theapplication confirms and notifies thepatient whether or not refills areavailable and schedules pickup time.The request is then posted to thepharmacy system work queue.
  • Quick-Link—is a fast and convenientway for staff to enter a refill request.Instead of using a pharmacy terminal,the application's small touchscreen can be used to securely submita prescription refill directly to thepharmacy system.
  • Refill Assistant—is a self-servicetouch screen that can be placed onthe counter or as a kiosk that givespatients the ability to place refillrequests from any location that isconnected to the pharmacy network.

Registered Pharmacist Marvin Lieber,owner of Tuxedo Pharmacy in Atlanta,Ga, said that he was one of the first independentsin the state to use Voice-Tech'sIVR system. In the 3 years his pharmacyhas been using it, he boasted, "It's amazing.I never realized how many callscame into the 5-line pharmacy. It's cutdown the phone callsto 20%. The answeringsystem doesn't hangus up on the phone.When customers gotused to it, they wouldcall the refills in atnight."

He also uses the systemfor prescriptionreminders if scripts areleft 3 days or longer.Physicians are able toleave messages andprescription orders,and patients can specifywhen they wouldlike to pick up their prescription.

"As an independentpharmacy, we prideourselves on our service," Lieber pointedout. "We got over [thenovelty of the new system]rather quickly. We accept it now,the patient accepts it. We don't feel it'sany loss of service. [Patients] can leavea voice-mail message or speak directlyto the pharmacy."

When Medicine Shoppe #337 implementedVoice-Tech's IVR, the goal wasto prevent errors. "The phone was gettingto be a problem, with being interruptedall day. I was afraid of makingmistakes," said Carl Acquaviva, ownerof the Palm Bay, Fla, pharmacy.

The pharmacy, which fills 300 to350 scripts a day, also uses the systemfor reminder calls for prescriptionsleft for 2 days, for prescriptionrefills using the Internet, and forphysicians to call in prescriptionsdirectly. Acquaviva's pharmacy islocated in a largely senior population,and he said that seniors still like totalk with pharmacists. "I'm amazed,however, at how many actually usethe system. Doctors' calls go right tothe IVR, and they love it because theydon't have to be put on hold."

"I feel better at work with it. I feellike I have more control over my day," Acquaviva concluded.