"You've got to spend money to make money" has never been truer than in the case of pharmacy workflow automation. Robots or pill counters aren't cheap to buy, of course, but the benefits they provide, both financial and otherwise, are definitely worth the investment if your pharmacy dispensing volume justifies the expenditure. Installing various forms of automated equipment has proven to improve pharmacy workflow, which benefits both customers and staff members alike. Some of these benefits include:
- Reduces the risk of dispensing errors, thereby increasing patient safety
- Frees up pharmacy staff, allowing them to refocus on additional patient-centric activities
- Streamlines the medication dispensing process, thereby reducing customer wait times
- Manages inventory better than visual inspections, helping ensure overstocking doesn't occur and that buying emergencies aren't experienced due to shortages
- Helps meet ever-increasing regulatory requirements
What's Out There?
Pharmacy workflow automation continues to improve regularly, with automated equipment becoming more affordable, having smaller space requirements, and being able to do more tasks that would otherwise be redundant, tedious, and time-consuming for pharmacists or technicians to complete.
The first example of pharmacy automation was the portable digital tablet counter, invented in England in the late 1960s. This machine was able to quickly and accurately count out medications in tablet form and was soon adopted for use all over England and other European countries, finally arriving in the U.S. in 1975. It was a vast improvement over the established hand-counting method of tablets and was soon redesigned to also count out capsules. The time savings and increased accuracy of this new form of pharmacy automation was quickly realized and adopted by not only drug stores and drug manufacturers, but also companies manufacturing vitamins and food supplement tablets/capsules.
Starting from the basic pill counter, variations soon came to market, such as equipment that could both count and then package medications. We now have automated pharmacy storage systems, inventory management systems, and even automated pill splitting machines. With the wide use of computer technology in most pharmacies, software has become available for keeping track of all kinds of data from monitoring patient profiles to checking on various drug interaction risks. The use of computers is essential in aiding many tasks, thereby improving efficiency and saving time for both technicians and pharmacists, whose time can always be better spent personally interacting with their patients.
The Bottom Line
Any investment in pharmacy automation will require an expenditure for which you hope you'll see a financial return. As the old saying goes, "time is money" – and one of the chief benefits of automatic pharmacy processes is saving time. This translates directly to the requirement for fewer man hours to accomplish any specific task, resulting in:
- Pharmacists have more time to directly interact with their clients not only to dispense advice, but also for the opportunity to cross-sell things like vitamins and food supplements that are needed to counteract vitamin and mineral depletion caused by taking certain drugs.
- A more streamlined, efficient workflow will almost always lessen employee stress caused by the feeling that they're falling behind in their work. Happier employees mean less turnover and fewer new employees requiring training. These are all money-saving factors.
- Pharmacists able to administer inoculations, provide diabetes counseling (or help with diabetes shoe fittings), conduct blood pressure monitoring, or just be out in the store aisles to help answer questions all help boost the customer experience.
The above information helps describe how your community pharmacy can stand out from the big-box store competition. Service is king and fosters pharmacy success. Automation helps provide better service.