Tech offensive: Pharmacies get smart about time, inventory management
Pharmacies can no longer turn a profit or improve patient health on volume alone. Though industry officials said prescriptions are increasing by about 60 million scripts a year, pharmacies also are expanding their scope by delivering more clinical services. Enabling these expanded offerings, while still getting patients their medication on time, has created a broad opportunity for providers of pharmacy technology and automation looking to ease the burden on staff to improve patient care, while growing pharmacy sales.
From patient engagement to inventory management and will-call, opportunities abound for pharmacies to get a technological assist.
Analytics fuel outreach
“FDS is committed to helping our customers drive improved revenues and profits while at the same time having a positive impact on patient care and health outcomes,” said Rich Bukovinsky, executive vice president of business development at Fort Worth, Texas-based FDS. “Through the use of strong data analytics and business intelligence, both of these goals can be achieved.” One of FDS’ pharmacy-centric business intelligence solutions is MyDataMart, which analyzes key data elements to pinpoint performance based areas of opportunity.
MyDataMart’s Refills on Time tool was designed to help improve patient adherence, and Bukovinsky noted that it “has been shown to improve adherence and pharmacy profitability by proactively identifying trends in a patient’s medication compliance and persistence rates by enabling visibility around the timeliness of medication refills.”
FDS’s Engage platform offers pharmacists a patient management solution that can help highlight potential clinical opportunities that include such adherence-focused efforts as medication synchronization, but also include medication therapy management, immunizations and other offerings. Lea said casting a wide clinical net not solely focused on adherence can have a wide impact.
“Strong data and business intelligence solutions are critical to the success of any pharmacy business,” Bukovinsky said. “As the industry continues to evolve towards a focus on patient care and clinical outcomes, leveraging solutions that helps improve financial growth while delivering exceptional care at lower costs is a prerequisite.”
Newly rebranded company Amplicare also takes a wide approach to patient care, with offerings that include Amplicare Restore, which helps pharmacists identify areas of medication therapy where key nutrients might be depleted, creating an opportunity to suggest OTC vitamins and supplements to augment a medication regimen.
“The pharmacy grows its supplement sales in ways that help with patient adherence as these supplements can help alleviate the side effects from the drugs taken by the patients,” said Amplicare CEO Flaviu Simihaian. Amplicare Restore works in concert with Amplicare Impact, which highlights gap therapy and other adherence opportunities to help get patients back on track.
Filling scripts faster
One way that pharmacists can have more time to be a resource for their patients is to simply automate some of the processes that go into prescription fulfillment. That’s where behind-the-counter — and sometimes offsite — automation comes in. In the world of pharmacy automation, companies are increasingly able to tailor a solution to a particular pharmacy’s needs.
When it comes to filling vials, Raleigh, N.C.-based RxMedic markets two straightforward products — the RM200 and the Automatic Dispensing System, both of which dispense medication into vials they label, with the latter capping the vials. The ADS can dispense up to 256 medications, and Will Humphries, RxMedic’s marketing coordinator, said the RM200 comes in at a lower price point because it doesn’t cap.
For pharmacies looking beyond the traditional vial and using adherence packaging — blister cards and multidose cards that simplify medication management for patients with multiple prescriptions, Longueuil, Quebec-based Synergy Medical has developed its latest offering, SynMed Ultra, now installed in two U.S. pharmacies.
Rob Anderson, Synergy Medical director of sales for the western United States said demand for medication management solutions is growing. “Everybody right now is fighting an adherence battle, and it’s affecting reimbursement,” he said. “It’s a highly competitive marketplace, it’s a high-volume, low-margin business, so SynMed allows people to do more with less.”
Automating multidose cards lets pharmacies tailor clinical services around patient pickup or create time for pharmacists to offer clinical services. “That time is freed up to focus on the patient, which benefits the health system as a whole,” Anderson said.
For pharmacies with high-volume needs, there has been a need for automation that thinks for itself. That’s one of the key areas of focus for Johnson City, N.Y.-based Innovation’s solutions. Its PharmASSIST high-volume solution is powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning that balances workloads to continually optimize the throughput of a system.
“Pharmacy operations that incorporate these tools will find opportunities to continuously and progressively improve with minimal risk, high impact and limited time commitments,” said Alecia Lashier, Innovation’s vice president of solutions engineering, adding that such platforms can optimize processing without the need for a reprogramming or an upgrade.
Pill counting and beyond
From counting pills to running inventory and ensuring their supply chain is in good standing, pharmacies have the opportunity to make more efficient the processes by which these vital tasks are completed.
When ensuring a pharmacy is stocked correctly, McKesson company Supplylogix offers pharmacies ordering solutions that can help centralize inventory decisions, which senior account manager Brad Dayton said allows the pharmacist to focus on patient care. SupplyLogix’s Pinpoint Order software uses predictive intelligence to help ensure the right in-stock levels and to reduce working capital in concert, Dayton said. For pharmacies with multiple locations, it offers Pinpoint Transfer, allowing the transfer of medication between locations to accommodate demand.
“We like to think that simplifying the burden of supply chain management, taking that labor-intensive responsibility off their plate, can in some way actually lead to better, more effective patient care,” Dayton said. “The pharmacist can’t treat the patient if they don’t have the right medications on hand. We help ensure that’s never a problem.”
Once a product is in stock, pill counting, continues to be an important, if time-consuming, part of keeping the pharmacy’s ship in order. Looking to ease that burden, RxMedic has introduced its RM1 tabletop pill counter. Measuring in at a little higher than 7 inches, the RM1 allows users to pour medications onto the surface to be counted, offering efficiency around inventory.
“It’s meant to bring inexpensive, affordable automation to the pharmacy if they want a quick, accurate efficient count,” RxMedic’s Humphries said. “It’s portable and at just 6 lbs. can be easily moved around the pharmacy. It’s also good for double counts.”
When it comes to inventory management, Innovation has developed its PharmASSIST Light-Way storage and retrieval system, which uses bottom-lit shelves that guide pharmacy staff to the product they need after scanning the product’s barcode. The product was recently installed on Washington’s Fairchild Air Force base.
As much as automation and software can assist with behind-the-scenes pharmacy needs, there also is opportunity to improve such patient-facing services as will-call, which companies are working to make more efficient for patients and staff.
Innovation’s PharmASSIST Light-Way also works as a will-call system, illuminating a particular patient’s prescription being stored in the product’s cabinetry. Also, Rx-Medic has seen high interest in its Automated Retrieval System. The ARS uses hangers with LED lights that illuminate for easy retrieval.
Humphries said will-call solutions have potential to improve the pharmacist-patient relationship by helping pharmacies put their best foot forward.
“I think more and more people see the value in an automated will-call area because it’s the face of your pharmacy,” he said.
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