Tablets, mobile apps transform pharmacy

When someone says “pharmacy automation and technology,” the image that most likely springs to mind is a pharmacy robot dispensing pills in a bottle or pharmacists managing operations or looking at patients’ medical records and electronic prescriptions with the latest pharmacy software.


But technology increasingly is migrating out from behind the counter as pharmacy retailers wield it not just to make the jobs of pharmacists and pharmacy techs easier, but to enhance the experience of the customer as well.


And it’s migrating at just the right time. According to the wireless industry-lobbying group CTIA, 303 million Americans reported owning a mobile device, while more than a quarter (26.6%) have replaced their landlines with mobile phones. Meanwhile, 63.2 million Americans own a smartphone, including 50% of consumers ages 25 to 34 years, and 35% of smartphone owners have access to the Internet from their mobile devices, according to digital business analytics firm ComScore. According to Insight Express, 82% of consumers have used their mobile phones in a store, and 55% have used them in a doctor’s office or hospital.


In other words, within the U.S. population lies a huge market for apps to do everything from allowing pharmacy customers to manage their prescriptions and arrange medication refills online to allowing diabetes patients to use a mobile device to keep track of their blood-glucose data. Mobile health apps have grown in popularity so rapidly — there are more than 6,000 of them in Apple’s App Store, according to MobileHealthNews.com — that the Food and Drug Administration has considered guidelines affecting them.


While retailers have found numerous ways to connect with their customers through mobile apps outside the store, they have a number of tools at their disposal to connect with them in the store as well. One reason the death of Steve Jobs affected so many people was because under his leadership, Apple developed numerous technologies that didn’t just sell well, but also changed how people lived. Accordingly, the iPad has led to entire new ways for retailers to interact with customers.


“It’s infiltrating every aspect of retail, and as a result of that, tablets and store-level associates are just huge,” Greg Buzek, principal of retail technology consultancy IHL Group, told Drug Store News. “The applications that are available for the iPad for the medical world are just astounding.”


Other applications for before-the-counter technology are emerging as well. In September, Rite Aid teamed up with OptumHealth to become the first to provide “virtual clinics” in a retail pharmacy setting as part of a program in some of its stores in the Detroit area. Meanwhile, PharmaSmart has unveiled BPT-Rx, a new medication therapy management software that integrates into the pharmacy software system and links blood-pressure results from PharmaSmart monitors directly to an enrolled patient’s electronic profile.

Retail Pads
When it launched its new Wellness store format earlier this year, Rite Aid introduced a number of innovative features, but one of the most prominent was “Wellness Ambassadors.” These ambassadors roam the store with iPads that provide access to a huge database of information about OTC medications, vitamins and supplements in order to assist customers in making decisions based on their symptoms and needs. Thus, they act as a bridge between the front end and the pharmacy, as president and CEO John Standley put it in an earnings call this summer.

Walgreens is arming its pharmacists with iPads and having them sit in an “information booth,” a desk area at the front of the store designed to provide customers with greater access to the pharmacist. The pilot program to put iPads in the hands of “health guides” was launched last month at 20 stores in Chicago.  The idea is to expand the role of the pharmacists beyond adjudicating prescriptions and have them interact more with patients.

Max-Wellness has introduced a new One2One area, 1-of-2 Max-Answers information stations, which features a transportable “health tablet” that customers can use to access information on 275 common maladies. Max-Wellness president and CEO Michael Feuer told Drug Store News during a store tour in July that a customer could say something like “I played tennis last night, and my knee hurts,” and the tablet would help him or her identify solutions.

Retail Apps
At the TEDMED conference in San Diego in October, Walgreens unveiled a host of new technologies designed to enhance the customer experience. Among these was “Refill By Scan,” a mobile app that allows patients to scan the bar code of a prescription and order refills in seconds, as well as other apps for Apple, Android and BlackBerry devices, such as refill reminder text alerts.

Jacksonville, Fla.-based supermarket chain Winn-Dixie has launched the Winn-Dixie pharmacy app for Apple, Android and BlackBerry smartphones and a mobile website, m.WinnDixieRx.com, operating on a secure network created by San Francisco-based Mscripts. The app allows customers to track prescription refill status and manage doctor and key health information. It also can locate the nearest Winn-Dixie pharmacy, in addition to offering services like interactive SMS messaging, mobile calendar integration and push notifications.

CVS Caremark has launched a new app for Android phones that provides users with Android OS version 2.1 or greater to access the Drug Information Database and learn about various prescription drugs, while allowing CVS Caremark plan members to log in and manage their prescriptions online. Other functions include refilling prescriptions, checking prescription order statuses, online new prescription requests and a pharmacy locator. The company has offered a version of the app for the iPhone since July 2010.

Health Apps
HealthPrize Technologies has launched a mobile app for the iPhone and Android that it calls the first to provide an integrated platform of creative rewards, games, education and competitions designed to combat medication nonadherence, a problem that costs the U.S. economy $290 billion every year. Rather than providing emails and texts, HealthPrize encourages adherence based on insights from behavioral economics, gaming dynamics and consumer marketing.

A new app for the iPhone allows users to keep track of their blood-sugar levels on a daily basis and over time. Glooko has launched the logbook app and MeterSync cable, which allow patients to automatically download data from their blood-glucose meters to their iPhones, add notes and send results to their healthcare providers. The cable costs $40 and works with popular blood-glucose monitors, such as Bayer’s Contour, FreeStyle Freedom Lite, FreeStyle Lite, OneTouch Ultra2, UltraLink and UltraMini.

GreatCall announced the launch of MedCoach, a medication management app that the company said would help customers better manage their overall well-being for free. Other features of the app include “Shake for Help,” which allows users to get help with a topic they’re reading by shaking the device, as well as 24-hour access to live personal assistance via email, secure storage of personal information and a medication look-up option that provides access to the First Databank national drug database.

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