The pandemic has accelerated change in the retail pharmacy, including investments in innovation and the deeper involvement of the retail pharmacy in patient care.
Nearly half of pharmacists (48%) and two-thirds of prescribers (66%) reported an increase in technology use over the past 18 months, according to a survey by Surescripts. The survey concluded, however, that “there still appears to be plenty of room for technology to improve everyday workflows and frustrating processes.”
“In my 45 years in the pharmacy profession, the opportunities and challenges that have been presented to pharmacists in the last 22 months are unparalleled, with new COVID-related responsibilities and an evolving role on the patient’s care team,” said Ken Whittemore Jr., RPh, vice president of professional and regulatory affairs at Surescripts. “To keep up with these changes, pharmacists are accelerating their use of technology to address administrative burdens and interoperability barriers.”
Opportunities still abound, however, he said, noting that pharmacists communicate about clinical matters with prescribers via their pharmacy software only 33% of the time, according to the Surescripts research, and most of the pharmacists surveyed (58%) find it somewhat or very difficult to access a patient’s out-of-pocket costs.
“This means pharmacists are spending unnecessary time locating missing information, sending faxes and making phone calls,” Whittemore said.
“In 2022, we’ll see greater adoption of technology that brings simpler, trusted intelligence sharing to pharmacies,” he said. “Electronic prescription change requests, direct secure messaging and real-time benefit tools, among others, will help remove friction and delays throughout the prescribing and patient care process. This will not only impact the way pharmacies do business, but it will make an even bigger difference for their patients.”
John Webster, vice president of innovation and product development at Crocus Medical, said the pandemic exposed the technological shortfalls in retail pharmacy.
“Clearly, pharmacists should have had a range of support technologies in place in advance of the pandemic in the first place and didn’t, so consequently many were short-staffed, overworked and their clients were frustrated,” he said. “Why there hasn’t been a huge movement toward implementing automation, especially during the pandemic, to help address these challenges, is a mystery to me.”
Webster said he hopes these past two years will be a wake-up call for pharmacists, especially independents, to invest in support technologies that will not only improve their current business efficiencies, but will ensure they are prepared for the future.
Our company, for example, offers pill counters, multidose adherence pouch packagers, multidose adherence blister packagers, ‘will call’ pick-to-light systems, inventory pharmacy management software and even patient ‘Rx self-retrieval’ cabinets,” he said. “There are endless opportunities, depending on the pharmacist’s business strategy, to help run more efficiently and cost-effectively through the use of automation and technology.”
Technology adoption in retail pharmacies “has been painfully slow to happen,” Webster said, citing as an example the fact that simple, inexpensive pill-counting technology has been available for more than 50 years. “I am astounded that the majority of pharmacies still use people to count pills, while other customer service tasks are ignored because the team is ‘too busy dispensing.’