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Factors to consider when deciding whether to invest in filling and packaging machines

On an average day, the typical independent retail pharmacy fills about 200 prescriptions and a pharmacist consults with physicians about nine times, according to the 2014 NCPA Digest. With declining reimbursement rates and pressure to increase quality and expand services, such as medication therapy management and disease management, many pharmacy owners are wondering how to survive and thrive in the current competitive landscape. This involves preserving margins by lowering costs and increasing efficiency.

Pharmacy owners face different situations and challenges. One pharmacy may be flourishing and the owner wants to grow; another is operating at capacity and the owner finds it difficult just to take time for lunch because of the workload; and still another is struggling to pull in enough business. In every situation it is important to think through the business strategy, develop plans for the future, and decide where to make investments to improve operations and increase profits.

Your pharmacy may need to increase efficiency or add capacity. One of the ways to do that is to use technology to save time and space, and free up employee time for tasks that only a human can do, such as counseling patients. Financial analysts say the market for pharmacy automation — such as systems that count, dispense, label and package medications — has been growing and will continue at more than 7% annually to 2019.1

Deciding whether to purchase automation technology to dispense or package medications is a big decision and can be a substantial financial investment. Here are some areas to focus on and questions to ask to guide you toward a more informed decision.

Costs

  • What are your current labor costs to perform the specific tasks of counting, dispensing, labeling and packaging? Calculate the current time it takes your staff to perform each task, and the total cost to your pharmacy. Then you can better weigh that against the cost of a machine and quickly figure out how you could recoup your investment. When Rite Aid automated prescription dispensing, it reported saving 11% of labor costs after just 90 days.2 (Note that top-performing pharmacies have lower payroll costs than average pharmacies, according to the NCPA Digest, which indicates greater efficiency.)
  • How would automation affect your space needs? Both machines and people require room to work, but you may be able to add capacity to your pharmacy without expanding the building or moving to a bigger location if you add automation to your workflow.

Opportunities

  • What business opportunities may you be missing because you don’t have and use automation technology? Contracts with long-term care facilities and other potential high-volume customers may require you to provide medications in compliance packaging. Do you have the capacity to meet those requirements in a timely, efficient, cost-effective manner?
  • What could your staff members do if they weren’t spending time doing tasks a machine can handle? Think about all the activities staff members struggle to find time to do, from counseling patients to performing revenue-generating activities, such as providing immunizations. Adding technology can free the pharmacist and technicians to interact with your customers more, including completing comprehensive medication reviews (CMRs). (Remember, CMS will start measuring completed CMRs for Star Ratings in 2016, based on 2014 data.)

Safety

  • How would automation affect your ability to catch medication errors? In a recent British study, only one third of community pharmacists caught all five dispensing errors in a set of 50 test prescriptions.3 Compare the systems you currently have in place with the safeguards an automated system could offer in both dispensing and checking prescriptions. (Also, check state regulations regarding medication inspection requirements before you purchase an automated inspection system.)

Marketing and Branding

  • How do customers and potential customers view your pharmacy? Could you cut wait times for prescriptions with an automated dispensing system? Does your pharmacy appear to be modern and up to date with the latest technology? Can you offer convenience to customers and their caregivers with compliance packaging?

Whether you want to increase efficiency or grow your business, it may be time to investigate whether an automated system can save you time and add capacity to your pharmacy.

If you still aren’t ready to add automated systems, check out “5 Ways to Improve Your Pharmacy’s Efficiency” for some no- and low-tech solutions. Learn about other pharmacy systems in “Technology That Helps You Implement Medication Adherence Services.”

 

For more information on pharmacy technology, visit:

 

1 “Pharmacy Automation Systems Market by Product Type (Medication Dispensing Systems, Packaging and Labeling Systems, Table-Top Counters) and by End-User (Inpatient Pharmacy Automation, Outpatient Pharmacy Automation) — Global Forecasts and Trends to 2019,” MarketsandMarkets, August 2014. LINK
2 “Rite Aid Reaps Benefits from Pharmacy Automation,” Russell Redman, Chain Drug Review, March 13, 2012. LINK
3 “Two Thirds of Pharmacists Miss at Least One of Five Dispensing Errors Hidden in Test Prescriptions, Study Finds,” Chris Chapman, The Pharmaceutical Journal, Sept. 8, 2014. LINK