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10/24/2022

Creating efficiencies for pharmacies, pharmacists in a post-COVID environment

Automation and technology companies are amplifying their product offerings and services.
Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
Sandra Levy profile picture

As the pandemic fades in the rearview mirror, pharmacists find that their responsibilities have ballooned. Not only are they filling a high volume of prescriptions and performing point-of-care testing, they also are providing COVID-19 testing, vaccines and boosters, as well as prescribing COVID-19 antiviral medication. How can they juggle these clinical responsibilities?

Enter automation and technology companies, which are amplifying their offerings.  

Here is a look at the standouts in the pharmacy tech and automation industry. These companies are helping pharmacists excel at their responsibilities and improve the health of their patients. 

[Read more: Walgreens to reportedly use robots in pharmacy supply chain]

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BD Medkeeper

BD

“Macro trends such as staff shortages, wage inflation and increased clinical demands on pharmacists are driving demand for intelligent, automated workflow solutions,” said Jason Strohm, worldwide vice president and general manager of dispensing and preparation technologies at BD. “BD is committed to helping pharmacies navigate these trends, which have been vastly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, we’ve been focused on adding new automation and advanced software to our medication management portfolio to help us enable pharmacists to focus more of their time on higher-value clinical work.”

In July, BD completed two key acquisitions: Parata Systems and MedKeeper. Parata Systems will position the company to offer its pharmacy customers a more comprehensive set of smart, connected care technologies as it expands care to new settings, centralizes its pharmacy operations and enables automated prescription filling as opposed to manual labor efforts. 

“Additionally, our acquisition of MedKeeper allows us to offer our pharmacy customers a customizable, cloud-based platform to optimize the preparation of compounded medications — which has traditionally been a manual, time-consuming process,” Strohm said.

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Bell and Howell QuickCollect Rx

Bell and Howell

“As a result of shifting consumer trends following the pandemic, businesses and pharmacies alike have seen the increased demand for convenient, contactless pickup experiences, with many unprepared to adopt to these changes,” said James Hermanowski, general manager and vice president of Bell and Howell’s BH QuickCollect Solutions business. “The QuickCollect Rx is the answer to this problem, fueling pharmacy loyalty through enhanced convenience, with prescription pickup available after pharmacy hours.”

The QuickCollect RX creates seamless pickup experiences for pharmacy customers through simplified, intuitive and contactless processes, the company said. It allows patients to bypass long lines at pickup counters or drive-thru wait times, which is a large cause of prescription abandonment. It’s also configurable to fit in a variety of indoor settings, from multi-user standalone units to positioning it at the end of an aisle. The solution also works in remote locations without pharmacies, extending the reach of the pharmacy.

Moreover, the QuickCollect RX is integrated with McKesson’s management software, allowing complete functionality, simplified workflows and prescription validation with any pharmacy using EnterpriseRx.

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CoverMyMeds automation equipment

CoverMyMeds

According to the 2022 Medication Access Report, 54% of pharmacists said they lack the time to complete their job effectively, with 81% citing inadequate staffing and 73% citing time-consuming administrative tasks; 70% of pharmacists said they’ve taken on new job responsibilities since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Citing these statistics, Melanie Christie, vice president of product management at CoverMyMeds, said that to adapt to the rapidly evolving environment the pandemic created, retail pharmacies are shifting their operations to focus even more on patient experience. 

“As a result, they need solutions that help automate and offload tasks to improve operational efficiency,” Christie said. “Doing so allows pharmacists to shift their focus to more patient-centric tasks that help deliver the transparency, convenience, quality and cost-effectiveness that patients expect.” 

[Read more: Leveraging robotics to increase pharmacists’ time for clinical services]

Pharmacy automation solutions and software play crucial roles in meeting those expectations. CoverMyMeds offers pharmacy solutions that integrate with pharmacy management systems to help improve workflows and enable pharmacists to help solve medication access and affordability challenges for patients. 

CoverMyMeds also offers solutions that can help with pharmacy operations, including dispensing, reimbursement and claims processing. “For example, our pharmacy automation and central fill solutions can help pharmacies of all sizes automate dispensing through technology that delivers speed and accuracy to help reduce costs and increase efficiency,” Christie said. “This combination of solutions and software helps people get the medicine they need to live healthier lives.”

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Crocus Medical dispenser

Crocus Medical

“Our retail pharmacy customers, as most businesses, experienced significant disruption to their staffing levels during the COVID pandemic, which left them struggling to keep up with prescription dispensing,” said John Webster, vice president of innovation and product development at Crocus Medical. “We know there are challenges meeting dispensing volume demand during peak filling hours under normal circumstances and when your team is down a member or two with COVID, but workloads are the same or even higher, it becomes a major struggle.”

While acknowledging that the RM1 can’t solve all of the dispensing issues in a busy pharmacy, Webster said that helping pharmacy techs count faster when dispensing allows them “to pick up the slack for missing members.”  

Webster also pointed out that the RM1 is cost-effective. “Pharmacies can put three RM1 pill counters in a pharmacy, one at each pharmacy tech station for less than $10,000,” he said. 

Additionally, the RM1 requires no calibration, no integration and no bar code scanning to quickly count pills. “All you have to do is plug it in, turn it on, and it is ready to count pills. Plus, since they are made in the United States, stock is available. There are no overseas shipping delays, which helps to avoid a problem that was prevalent during COVID,” Webster said. “Same-day shipping and a one-box delivery makes it a great value and a quick solution in meeting dispensing/counting demands.”

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EnlivenHealth, a division of Omnicell 

“Retail pharmacy is rapidly undergoing an historic transformation,” said Danny Sanchez, senior vice president and general manager of EnlivenHealth. “The COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing healthcare digitization are accelerating this transformation.” 

EnlivenHealth recently launched Amplicare Clinical Solution, a com-prehensive suite of integrated technology solutions designed to enable pharmacies to shift from focusing primarily on dispensing medications to providing and efficiently billing for a growing array of high-value clinical services such as vaccinations, testing and wellness counseling.

“EnlivenHealth’s Amplicare Clinical Solution was purpose-built to help pharmacies strengthen and expand their role as community healthcare providers,” Sanchez said. “Additionally, the automated solution suite enables pharmacies to reduce the administrative and operational burdens that keep pharmacists from practicing at the top of their license.” 

[Read more: Embracing new digital tools]

Pointing out that emerging technologies also are transforming how retail pharmacies can leverage Medicare plan comparisons to retain some of their highest value patients, while reducing DIR fees and increasing revenue growth, Sanchez said that EnlivenHealth’s Medicare Match solution provides a suite of Medicare plan comparison and selection tools that enables pharmacists to assist their patients in choosing their ideal plan. 

“With Medicare Match — featuring the NavigateMyCare.com plan comparison website — pharmacies can help ensure that their patients select an affordable Medicare Part D plan that fully covers their specific medication needs. The result is healthier patients and more profitable pharmacies,” he said. 

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iA pill dispenser

iA

“The pandemic drastically shifted the way retail pharmacies work. Retail pharmacists, already short-staffed and burdened by increased demand for prescription filling, also were called upon to provide immunizations and diagnostic services to their communities,” said Tom Utech, group president of product and software at iA.

Noting that burnout rates skyrocketed as pharmacists administered vaccines and COVID-19 tests on top of their already heavy workloads, Utech said that iA’s automated pill dispensing and storage and retrieval solutions rose to meet the challenge, fulfilling up to 300 prescriptions per hour. “By reducing repetitive, low-value filling tasks, iA helps curb one of the leading causes of burnout for pharmacists,” he said. “Automation also helps mitigate human error from the pill-dispensing process.”

iA’s intelligent enterprise pharmacy fulfillment software platform, NEXiA, underpins these fulfillment solutions, enhancing prescription processing in real time. By decreasing and streamlining fulfillment work in retail pharmacies’ operations, pharmacists and techs are allowed more time to spend engaging in patient-centered healthcare services. 

"In-store automated storage and retrieval systems can accelerate fulfillment today and provide 24/7 dispensing of prescription and over-the-counter medications tomorrow.” — Brian Sullivan, senior systems sales manager for healthcare solutions, Knapp USA and Canada
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Knapp logo

Knapp

“Pharmacies closing on weekends because of personnel shortages. Soaring prescription volumes. Ballooning wages. Plummeting profits. Mushrooming competition. Pharmacy is at an inflection point,” said Brian Sullivan, senior systems sales manager for healthcare solutions at Knapp USA and Canada. “You can evolve and become a one-stop shop for routine care, or go the way of the dodo.” 

Sullivan explained that Knapp enables pharmacy evolution with a system that’s patient-centric, error-free and auto-compliant. It also frees pharmacists and technicians for higher-value activities by fully automating labor-intensive tasks.

Additionally, the system frees up space for revenue-generating services, so pharmacies can reclaim profitability, and it “enables consumers to get prescriptions whenever, wherever and however they want,” he said.

Sullivan went on to say that micro-fulfillment centers deployed today can become regional hubs that support up to 200 retail, specialty and long-term care pharmacies tomorrow. “In-store automated storage and retrieval systems can accelerate fulfillment today and provide 24/7 dispensing of prescription and over-the-counter medications tomorrow,” Sullivan said.

Lastly, Sullivan said that the entire software-driven system is integrated and interconnected for flexible fulfillment of prescriptions, OTC and e-commerce orders. 

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OmniSYS

OmniSYS

“COVID-19 changed everything from a retail pharmacy perspective,” said David Pope, chief pharmacy officer at OmniSYS. “It changed the services you offer in store, how patients view the pharmacy and how pharmacists interact with their patients. Every pharmacy is reacting to the new normal in a unique way. We’ve seen more clinical services given in the pharmacy space, more patients coming to the pharmacy for consultative health care, and pharmacy has vaccinated over 263 million Americans for COVID-19.”

Pope said that retail pharmacy can move forward by continuing to operate on the thesis that pharmacy is the front door to health care in the United States. 

“Pharmacy can fill the gap, supplying critical clinical services to healthcare deserts, improving healthcare equity in underserved communities and working together with physicians to improve every American’s overall health and well-being,” he said. “Our retail pharmacy solutions streamline clinical encounters, with a billing-enabled EHR that guides clinical documentation from inside your native workflow and configurable APIs that simplify clinical data exchanges between existing solutions.” 

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Surescripts logo

Surescripts

“The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are still unfolding across the nation, causing an increase in patient concerns about the cost of prescription drugs and exacerbating healthcare provider burnout, prompting many professionals to leave the workforce,” said Andrew Mellin, vice president and chief medical information officer at Surescripts. 

Surescripts’ solutions support pharmacists by simplifying the process for filling prescriptions. 

“Surescripts has the technology they need to access actionable patient intelligence when and where it’s needed most, so they spend less time on administrative tasks and focus on what matters — their patients,” Mellin said.

[Read more: REX Awards 2022: Technology and Automation]

Surescripts solutions include Real-Time Prescription Benefit, Clinical Direct Messaging and Specialty Medications Gateway.

“For more than two decades, pharmacies have used Surescripts E-Prescribing, improving the process of filling prescriptions by making it more cost-effective, lowering the average transaction cost by 73% since 2009. Surescripts continues to partner with pharmacies and healthcare providers to simplify how health intelligence is shared, improving the delivery of care,” Mellin said.

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Zebra Technologies temperature products

Zebra Technologies

Pointing out that it is critical for companies to have instant, visible confirmation that their pharmaceutical and food products have not experienced a temperature excursion within the supply chain, Ashley Barey, director of strategic business development management at Zebra Technologies, said, “You need to be confident that product temperature is being maintained from manufacturer to distribution center to store to customer.”  

Zebra’s ready-to-use temperature indicators, manufactured by Temptime, provide the insights retailers need to ensure the integrity and cost-effectiveness of pharmaceutical and food products. Tested in the field to assure consistent and reliable performance in sensing threshold heat and freeze events at the unit and case level, the indicators are available as a self-adhesive unit or a card.  

“Our rigorous GMP-compliant and ISO-certified quality systems align with your expectations of high quality and reliability,” Barey said. “Zebra’s ZeOn-demand printable indicators are an all-in-one solution providing product identification and environmental exposure information, using an environmental indicator on a thermal printable label — simply print asset identification data alongside the environmental indicator,” she said. “Zebra gives you temperature intelligence, so you can reduce waste and instill customer confidence today and every day.”

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