An inefficiency is anything that impedes, slows down, or clogs up pharmacy workflow in any way that prevents it from being as effective as it can be. Inefficiencies are generally the result of failing to establish specific processes, not streamlining workspace foot traffic patterns, or failing to organize inventory for best practices and compliance with HIPAA regulations.
By asking (and answering) these questions, you may identify existing inefficiencies that are wasting time or risking error in your pharmacy:
Have you established protocols regarding proper workflow?
Proper workflow protocols are essential not just for improved efficiency, but also for fewer errors.
If you are seeing a number of errors being made or feel that processes are simply taking too long to complete, establish specific sequences of steps for each procedure you or your technicians regularly perform during the workday – especially when they are occurring in tight workspaces. The fewer steps (thus, less time) required to accomplish a task, the fewer opportunities for error there are.
For example, when a technician repackages drugs into smaller units for individual patients, it's been shown that one round-trip between storage shelving and fill counter takes an average of 44 seconds for repackaged prescriptions and 22 seconds for single unit prescriptions.
By establishing foot traffic patterns – especially at the time that you are setting up your shelving and counterspace in your pharmacy workflow – you strategically ensure that your employees take as few trips as possible between the fill counter and the storage area, which saves time and energy.
Are your workstations highly organized and appropriately designed?
A tech's supplies should always be within easy reach, and inventory should be stored intuitively in order to avoid spills, drops, and other errors. The risk for human error always exists, so taking proactive steps to have workstations that are specifically designed to accommodate for the unique work that you do is important. Attempting to utilize makeshift fixtures, shelves, and counter space can exacerbate organization issues, so be attentive to each task that is repetitively done and make the necessary chances to accommodate accordingly with your pharmacy workflow.
Are you utilizing technology to its fullest potential?
Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology can take over much of the telephone work that takes up time for you and your employees. By making the best use of this service, you can accomplish more of the tasks that require the human touch.
Robots can also serve as resources for not only improving pharmacy workflow efficiency, but also for reduceing potentially harmful medication errors and cross-contamination. These automated systems fill prescriptions much more quickly and accurately than humans can. For example, one study found that a robot could fill over 350,000 prescriptions before it made a single error – and even that error was likely not the fault of the robot. By contrast, human-based prescription errors total over 1 million per year.
The risk of cross contamination with other medications is reduced when you use robots to fill prescriptions. In addition to being an important benefit to your patients, this can also help you remain in compliance with United States Pharmacopeia Chapter 797 Standards with prescription fills in that you'll better meet requirements for sterile pharmaceutical compound preparation.
Do you have repackaging sequences firmly established and enforced?
The proper sequence for repackaging drugs should generally follow this sequence:
- Review label
- Choose packaging
- Count pills
- Fill the vial or package
- Select the closure
- Return unused product to original container(s)
- Affix the prescription label to the package
- Organize paperwork
By training your staff on this process and enforcing that it consistently be followed, you are able to trim out wasted time caused by skipped steps, having to redo steps, and making embarrassing or dangerous errors.
Are your workspaces private?
Of course, you must be available when your customers and patients need you, because their needs are important. However, it is difficult to work efficiently or accurately when you are being constantly interrupted. By establishing specific areas of your workspace as "private zones," you and your employees will be able to give what you're doing there your undivided attention. To achieve this, install a privacy wall between your private workspace and the customer area.
This privacy wall would also beneficial for your compliance with the strengthened HIPAA regulations that went into effect in 2013. Patient privacy is a heightened priority, so the privacy wall also serves to ensure that customers won't overhear any sensitive conversations between you and your employees.
Don't just see... do.
Identifying your pharmacy workflow hangups and inefficiencies is a great first step, but you must also make the efforts to fix them. Not only will you make your business more profitable, but you'll also ensure that you meet those all-important industry standards and more effectively meet the needs of your customers.