Like drinking from a fire hose. That’s one way some pharmacy retailers might describe their efforts to manage the flood of data unleashed every day by their prescription dispensing operations. The goal: to turn that data flow into actionable information they can use to better manage pharmacy workflow and staff resources, boost profitability, reduce customer wait times and make more informed decisions about the capital every retail pharmacy must allocate to technology and staffing. Johnson City, N.Y.-based Innovation has developed a new tool it claims will tame the data beast and put it to work as a pharmacy management and profit-building ally. Known for its PharmASSIST product line, which includes robotics and other automated dispensing systems, and the PharmASSIST Symphony workflow software for prescription processing and tracking, Innovation has partnered with Binghamton University’s Watson Institute for Systems Excellence, or WISE, to launch a new service for informed retail pharmacy management.
The service, called Pharmacy Intelligence, applies application-based data analytics, computer-animated graphic process simulation and Lean Six Sigma principles to enable a new level of more advanced modeling and forecasting. Retailers can use the service, says Doyle Jensen, Innovation’s EVP global business development, to analyze their current pharmacy workflow, physical configuration and methods; model new “what if” scenarios that could improve workflow and results; and forecast the impact that process changes could have on pharmacy operations and financial results. DSN spoke with Jensen to learn more about Pharmacy Intelligence and how it differs from current pharmacy applications. Here are excerpts from that interview:
DSN: Innovation’s mission seems to be evolving beyond pharmacy automation and dispensing technology. What’s happening?
Jensen: We’re rolling out a new identity campaign about Innovation. Robotics is just a small piece of what we do. Our whole identity is about … optimizing outcomes through pharmacy intelligence. We already have these partnerships with chain pharmacy in place, and through our alliance with the Watson Institute, which has one of the biggest supercomputers in the eastern United States, we’re actually able to help people predict outcomes.
DSN: What does that mean for the pharmacy industry, which has come to know Innovation as a provider of pharmacy workplace hardware and software?
Jensen: We want to empower people with the information to make a decision. We live in a world of data — and every pharmacy chain tracks everything they can. But each person of decision-making influence at that chain wants the intelligence that comes from that data, so they can make a strategic impact on their business. That’s what we mean by pharmacy intelligence. It gives you actionable information that can impact your business in your specific area.
It’s like when Apollo 13 was running out of oxygen. NASA used simulations to solve the crisis. They ran every scenario and simulation to see the outcome before they had the astronauts execute it in the capsule. Those are the types of tools we’re bringing to our pharmacy clients. Instead of going through all these expensive, slow and arduous pilot processes, we can give them the tools to predict the impact of a change in workflow or process or automation without ever touching their business — and with a high level of confidence and very small investment.
At the DSN roundtable in December, one thing I heard from the other speakers is, ‘We have capital available to improve our enterprise, but we have a lot of projects competing for that capital.’ They need help deciding what project would give them the biggest bang for their buck. So the competition for capital can be prioritized.
DSN: Talk about the solutions Pharmacy Intelligence is set up to provide.
Jensen: It’s about modeling. With Pharmacy Intelligence, we can help a chain create simulations that account for both the human factor — being able to predict outcomes based on your personnel — and the technology side, including workflow and process simulation. We’re able to look at the ways your technology and software can be impacted by making changes. On both of those, the human and technology sides, we can put your pharmacies into these models, and through this process give you predictive outcomes.
We’re looking at inefficiencies in the process … and better utilization of your resources. A lot of people are managing defensively and reacting. We want to give them the power to go on the offense, and model things in advance instead of reacting to a problem. Like, what if we set up or planogram our pharmacy completely differently? What if we give the customer an interface with a kiosk? Or put in a new queuing system?
If we stood in your business and took a video camera and watched it, it would tell us the same thing as the data. And that is actually part of our process sometimes, where we deploy professional services to capture your process on video.
DSN: So you’re saying that Pharmacy Intelligence can model ‘what if’ scenarios, and even weigh the costs and benefits of one process or system vs. another?
Jensen: That’s one example. Another real-world example is using it to model central fill. These are costly high-end systems, so the question becomes whether pharmacy retailers invest in this large capital expenditure. The prescription-processing cost of central fill is a lot lower than processing in the store. So we work with the retailer to design a central fill system, forecast its results, and then provide them with the detail to prove out their return on investment.
Another aspect of central fill that some chains don’t think about is the redeployment of their in-store pharmacy staff. They all … want to do more MTM, more immunizations and more true patient care. So we can help them model what the redeployment of those assets would look like. It’s making the best use of your pharmacists and resources.
DSN: In your own words, what makes Pharmacy Intelligence unique and different, say, from Innovation’s Symphony software package for pharmacy workflow?
Jensen: Pharmacy Intelligence is a unique service; it’s not a product that a pharmacy can purchase and integrate with their other systems. It’s also independent of whether they use our PharmASSIST products or not. They could use anybody’s workflow, and this service would benefit them. Through this service we can help them model a specific piece of technology to look for inefficiencies and predict various outcomes. And we can look at the way a human is processing prescriptions, and look for efficiencies.
DSN: Can you give a specific example?
Jensen: Almost every chain today, when they process a prescription, will preprint all the patient information and paperwork and place it with the order. How many people really want that information? Imagine even the green impact alone … if 90% of those prescriptions didn’t generate that paperwork any more.
So say you’re thinking about putting print-on-demand paperwork in place, at the discretion of the customer. How would that affect your ability to serve customers? Does it create bottlenecks in your process? Does it improve patient care or customer satisfaction? In the past, the only way you could really look at that was to do all the coding or run a pilot. But through this process and this modeling, we can predict the outcome with a high level of confidence before you spend a dollar on changing your system or potentially impacting your customers. We can help you see whether that print-on-demand feature is going to lengthen the checkout process by creating a higher workload at that point in the process. And we can run it across different scenarios, like higher-volume stores or slower and less productive employees.
DSN: We’re not talking necessarily, then, about installing any more technology or new counting systems. It’s more holistic.
Jensen: Exactly. We do have new retail technologies that are unique. But we don’t want to sell somebody something they don’t need. We’re technology-agnostic. So we may be working with technology from our competition and telling our customer how to use it more efficiently. We’re not out to sell unnecessary technology; we’re out to improve process.
We recently had a customer who wanted to implement a new piece of technology, which had a very high cost point. We were able to simulate their production system and find that it would not give them the increased production that they thought it would. The simulation also showed that if we made a very simple low cost change, it would result in the production increase they were looking for.
DSN: So you can use Pharmacy Intelligence to analyze whatever system they have, or you can use it to help design a new system? Can it make that big a difference in the way the data is analyzed and turned into actionable information?
Jensen: That’s a great summary. It’s about identifying and implementing the right technology and the right process for that exact location, customized at the store level or central fill. Each store and central fill has differences — in destination, in formularies, order mix, throughput differences, the rate at which the staff works, the peaks in their daily workflow. Pharmacy Intelligence allows us to create models based on all of these characteristics.
DSN: How does the service help you model an untried scenario with a new client?
Jensen: Our professional services and WISE partners develop a process plan, which includes a data-gathering phase, data validation phase, data analysis, model simulation, and model validation.
Through this, Pharmacy Intelligence assesses operational risks, optimizes system designs and processes, and accurately forecasts the results. The customer gets substantiated answers before they invest, and they don’t incur the costs of building and proving out a live production system.
DSN: How do you engage a pharmacy or chain for the Pharmacy Intelligence service?
Jensen: We’ll meet with the client, discuss what they’re trying to accomplish … and recommend project options we believe make the most sense for them.
We’ll then define what type of data collection process we’ll go through. That could mean we actually go out and observe and record workflow.
From that, we’ll develop and present the model. We graphically show them a representation of what’s going on in their pharmacy — with the pharmacists, the techs, the automation, everything integrated and moving around, including dispensing rates, the workflow, the process, the times of day business is affected. We can say, ‘Here’s what the data show … now here's what we recommend for improvement.’