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Defining the project: Choosing the right automation solution
The great medieval philosopher and astronomer Maimonides once noted, “the risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” Apparently, this applies also to choosing and defining the scope of an automation solution for a high-volume pharmacy.
Innovation executives and Binghamton University researchers at the group’s symposium on change management for pharmacy operations earlier this month totally agreed. Once pharmacy providers, looking to automate their high-volume central fill or mail-order operation, have clearly defined their business and operations goals, they should use an unbiased ratings process to select the vendor and technology that will best meet their objectives and move the project forward in an expeditious manner, they said.
“Once the project is underway, indecision will only slow things down,” Innovation program office director Tim Limer told attendees of the two-day program, which drew executives from a number of pharmacy chains and independent drug store operators. “Making decisions smartly but quickly is important.”
Because adding automaton has an impact on more than just a company’s pharmacy department, deciding what kind of system to employ often involves a multitude of people from a wide range of disciplines, many of whom often have little knowledge of what it takes to keep up with the growing demand for prescription drugs.
Unfortunately, that can be a major obstacle.
Limer and Innovation VP of government affairs and professional services Phil Samples noted that too much input from executives who are not involved in pharmacy can negatively impact a project, often leading to delays and cost overruns. It is crucial, they said, that an experienced pharmacy person — preferably someone who will be directly involved in managing or using the system every day — be one of the chief decision-makers.
He explained that getting everyone from the CEO to the pharmacy staff, who will be using the system, to accept the new technology is the only way that incorporating high-volume automation into an operation will be successful.
“I would encourage you to follow a proven change management program,” he said. “The project’s success depends on everyone buying into it.”
Because building an automation solution for a high-volume, central-fill pharmacy operation — be it in a retail or a mail-order setting — calls for a detailed and wide-reaching plan, symposium speakers stressed that myriad factors — from how the new system will work with existing technology to how to keep the system running optimally — need to be taken into consideration.
This is where Innovation’s collaboration with the Binghamton University’s Watson Institute for Systems Excellence comes in, Innovation executives explained. Because researchers at the institute are involved in some of the world’s most advanced work with computer simulations, they can identify how a system will work and ensure that it meets a pharmacy’s stated goals and requirements.
Because most automated systems require some degree of human input, WISE research manager Len Poch said one of the main focuses of the simulation models created at the institute is ergonomics. Ensuring that workstations manned by humans are easy to use and can improve productivity benefits the pharmacy and its patients, he said.
“The configuration has a direct impact on how you treat patients and on their safety,” Poch noted, saying a highly ergonomic system goes a long way toward ensuring that prescriptions are filled accurately.
Innovation executives and engineers, BU researchers and the pharmacy operators at the symposium all agreed that as ergonomically ideal as a system may be, it is only a benefit when it works effectively. Along those lines, several Innovation representatives pointed out that the company’s various robotic systems are designed with a human-filling contingency mode, meaning the robots’ dispensers continue to function and a human can label vials and retrieve medication under a barcode-controlled operation. This fallback option ensures only a minimal interruption in workflow.
Going forward, they said, more of the prescription-filling process will become automated.
“We are looking at workstation design of the future so that when the time comes, we’ll be ahead of the game and our customers will truly benefit,” Limer said.
Innovation, BU WISE welcome symposium attendees
Pharmacy automation solutions supplier Innovation and the Watson Institute for Systems Excellence held an in-depth symposium on the role automation is playing in pharmacy operations. More than 60 students, Innovation executives and representatives from community pharmacy chains, pharmacy benefit management companies and mail-order facilities attended the two-day event earlier this month on the campus of Binghamton University. The symposium, which executives hope will become an annual event, kicked off with a welcome reception.