Technology Saves Time for Patients


A range of pharmacy tasks can be handled more efficiently through the use of technology, freeing up pharmacists to spend time helping patients.

A range of pharmacy tasks can be handled more efficiently through the use of technology, freeing up pharmacists to spend time helping patients.

Do you ever feel as if you spend more time justifying your job than actually doing your job? You aren’t alone. More than a decade ago, a study focused on the pressure pharmacists felt as their workloads increased and their time with patients decreased. As the industry sees a growing number of pharmacists choosing retirement, the demands on those left behind will grow as well.

Like most individuals who work in a pharmacy, you entered the profession to help others. You wanted to make a difference in your community. A recent Gallup poll found that pharmacists were rated the second most ethical and trusted profession, behind only nurses. Those who have chosen this career path work hard to develop trusting relationships and make their patients feel comfortable and at ease. However, once you lose a connection with your customers, you lose their trust.

Terry Netherton is a registered pharmacist who is also a senior manager at QS/1. He has spent years on the front line, running his own pharmacy operation. He knows first-hand the pitfalls that can turn a pharmacist’s attention away from their customers.

“The telephone is great, but it’s also a huge distraction for the pharmacist,” said Netherton. “Most of the calls that come into a pharmacy are patients requesting refills. A pharmacist’s day can disappear quickly when he/she spends time trying to get refill information and then enter it into the system.”

Netherton said pharmacies should embrace technology that allows them to spend more time with patients. Obviously, adding an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system and refill request functionality to your website can free up everyone’s time in the pharmacy. These options are automated and allow patients to enter their refill information. The refills are sent to the pharmacy management system to begin the prescription process.

“IVR and Web refills are classic examples of how you can put technology to work for you,” Netherton said. “These services give customers access to their refills around the clock, and no one on staff has to slow down to get the information. It’s a win-win.”

Netherton said spending time with patients is extremely important. “If you don’t get to know your customers, how can you better serve them?” he asked. “When you spend time talking with them, you learn more about their overall health, not just the reason they are in your pharmacy on a particular day. You can spot drug interactions and other issues that might not otherwise be caught.”

It is also important to make sure patients understand how to take their medications. The SIG on the bottle may not be enough to ensure they are doing it properly. Netherton said explaining the directions face-to-face gives the pharmacist the assurance that customers fully understand what they need to do. If a patient is confused or doesn’t really understand, you will quickly see it in their expressions. This gives you an opportunity, but opportunities can be missed. “If you’re on the phone taking refills, you can’t spend that time with them to make sure you’re doing your job of serving them fully,” he added.

Meeting and fulfilling government regulations is also a big part of a pharmacist’s job, but you can easily find yourself spending all your time serving the government rather than your patients. One of the biggest regulations in the industry right now is the requirement to report ingredients used to make methamphetamines and other drugs to state agencies. As more states get on board with requiring pharmacies to report when they dispense certain drugs, such as controlled substances, automation is critical.

“All of a sudden pharmacies found themselves in the position of having to keep logs each time a prescription was filled,” Netherton said. “Then they had to prepare the report and send it to the proper agency. Your pharmacy management system should alert you when a required drug is filled and help you gather the information for the report.”

Your pharmacy system should also help you select the information that is required by your state agency. When a patient gets a prescription filled, the pharmacy management system prompts the staff for the proper information and then builds the report. The reports are generated and sent electronically. The time this saves pharmacists in remaining compliant can be spent counseling patients instead.

This might be a tough pill to swallow, but Netherton said it’s important for pharmacists to learn to delegate. Often, pharmacists hire a full staff of technicians but still prefer to do every part of the job themselves. Why hire a staff if you aren’t going to trust and use them to their full potential?

“A pharmacist needs to let his technicians help with the phone when it rings,” Netherton said. “We know not everyone is going to use IVR or the pharmacy’s website to request refills. Technicians can answer those calls and enter information. This will allow the pharmacist to do a quality-control check of the drugs that have been filled and spend more time with the patients.”

If you don’t use your staff, they may feel as if they’re not a part of the team. Have some trust in your employees and let them perform the duties that allow you to make your customers feel special.

That special feeling you give customers can be the key to your success. Let’s assume your competition is just a few blocks away. Chances are you both offer the same prescription drugs, the same basic over-the-counter drugs, and maybe even the same quick service. So, what sets you apart from the competition? What will make the customer pass by your competitor’s store and drive to yours instead? It’s the personal connection you make. It’s the time you spend looking your patients in the eyes, answering their questions, and explaining everything in detail. Take the time to not only know about your customers’ health issues but to learn the names of their children and where they attend school. That personal touch is key. While your customers may not recognize it immediately, that level of customer service will remain in the backs of their minds.

Netherton smiled as he said, “Computers will never replace pharmacists or good customer service, but they will give pharmacists some freedom from tasks that keep them behind the counter.”

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