Driving Efficiency Through Pharmacy Technology

Digital transformation and technology acceptance is crucial to the survival of independent pharmacies. 

Recent updates in technology allow pharmacies to operate at maximum efficiency, eliminating human error and streamlining repetitive tasks. They also give professionals more time to focus on individual care and building relationships with patients in person and online.

The market demand for more streamlined digital experiences has also increased with the widespread use of mobile devices. According to GSMA Intelligence’s real-time data, there are 10.27 billion mobile connections worldwide as of April 2020. That’s 25% more devices than there are people in the world (7.8 billion). 

Pharmacies must adapt not just their messaging and marketing to digital spaces, but their core offerings and services as well.

Pharmacy Information and Management Systems and How They’ve Evolved 

Pharmacy Information Systems (PIS) are systems created to organize and maintain a pharmacy’s supply and organization in inpatient and outpatient settings. They help report and track drug costs and usage, reduce medication errors and compliance risks, and increase patient safety.

A PIS is typically made up of a user interface with detailed patient profiles, a connected computer system with multiple access points, and secure data storage, so pharmacists can search and maintain patient and drug information and health recommendations. They often work alongside other solutions within a hospital or healthcare system. 

For smaller independent or standalone pharmacies, a Pharmacy Management System (PMS), which combines a PIS with business operations management, provides end-to-end support so they can operate efficiently.

These software solutions automate daily tasks from drug stocking to customer and billing management, and streamline workflows for pharmacy staff and clinicians. 

A PMS may include features like:

  • Prescriptions and tracking: Entering and manufacturing compounds, Rx data entry, refill requests, and drug fulfillment
  • Billing and pricing: Insurance management, payments reconciliation, accounts receivable (AR) or integration with third-party accounting software
  • Reporting: Advanced and user-based search functions, digital record storage
  • Patient management: Clinical information and screening, personal profiles and medication history
  • Staffing and workload management: Dispensing workflow, inventory management and purchasing

Standalone PMSs rely on a single vendor for updates and features. An integrated system connects with expanded features it may not currently offer, such as e-prescribing solutions, medical document management tools, pharmacy POS systems, electronic health records (EHR), or RFID/barcode-scanning programs. 

As technology evolves and the demand for digital presence and connectivity increases, PMSs are increasingly required to offer a seamless pharmacy and patient experience. Mobile optimization and the integration of new communication tools such as apps, automated customer service, and secure messaging options can allow for quicker, more efficient patient care.

An Omnichannel Pharmacy Experience

In a digital age, pharmacies must be equipped to reach their patients on the platforms and devices they are most likely to use. Omnichannel strategy helps brands connect with audiences across multiple points of contact and create seamless customer experiences. Independent pharmacies can leverage omnichannel experiences to provide a competitive level of efficient, personalized care.

Examples of omnichannel features for independent pharmacies:

Mobile Apps. As the number of smartphone-only internet users grows, so does the need for mobile services. Pharmacy mobile apps allow patients to access their profiles, refill prescriptions digitally, and set reminders. This reduces their wait time and phone calls, and enables pharmacists to focus on personalized, in-store patient interaction.

Chatbots. 27% of the healthcare industry is already accepting the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare customer service. Chatbots act as pharmacy virtual assistants, answering routine patient questions on their website, educating users about treatment and side-effects, and can even automate repetitive business and sales tasks.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR). IVR is the next step in intelligent telecommunications technology. Unlike auto-attendants, which operate on a simple menu and transfer callers to different extensions, IVR uses speech recognition to ask and answer questions, troubleshoot problems, and offer status updates. Our cloud-based IVR automates prescription refills and integrates with a range of pharmacy management systems.

Patient Messaging. Given the option, 70% of people will now choose a messaging option over calling on a business website. With patient messaging, pharmacists and patients can message each other directly, simplifying prescription pickups and health information sharing. Digital Pharmacist’s secure messaging solution also offers desktop messaging alerts and image sharing, and maintains all patient conversations on a HIPAA-compliant system. 

Current and Future Pharmacy Automation

The need for pharmacy automation solutions is growing quickly. According to BCC Research, the pharmacy automation industry will be worth $7.8 billion by 2024 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.6% from 2019-2024.

But pharmacy automation is not a new concept. Forward industry thinkers have been working to streamline and simplify medication dispensing since the early 1970s when the first electronic portable digital tablet counter was invented. 

Now, through many variations of counting technologies and packaging devices, workflow management systems, and interactive and AI-based communication tools, companies are finding new ways to cater to pharmacy needs through automation. As we’ve seen, the overall trend of pharmacy automation has centered around the patient experience and customer service. 

So what’s the next step for automation within the pharmacy space? 

As the healthcare industry becomes more comfortable with the use of AI-based technologies, robotic dispensing has begun to gain ground among both larger retail and smaller pharmacies. Dispensing robots can reduce medication errors, a serious concern for overworked big-box pharmacy staff, and prove a cost-effective tool for smaller pharmacies with lower prescription volumes (150 per day). 

In 2016, Digital Pharmacist client Platte Valley Pharmacy of Brighton, CO introduced a ScriptPro dispensing robot to help cut down on patient wait times, resulting in a 50% increase in prescription volume.

With larger competitors offering tech-savvy solutions and a younger workforce coming into play, independent pharmacies must meet new demands for a streamlined, personalized, and tech-driven patient experience. 

Pharmacy management solutions and automation allow independent pharmacies to maintain relationships with existing patients while optimizing their own operational efficiency. This enables them to not only free up valuable time for one-on-one care by systemizing repetitive tasks but also compete more effectively with big-box retailers.

As pharmacy automation advances, independent pharmacies’ ability to adapt and adopt may no longer be a matter of keeping up with trends, but about staying in business and providing the highest quality standard of care possible.