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How pharmacists can find ways to increase efficiency, streamline essential duties

Chirag Patel, PharmD, senior product manager for FDB, discusses how the retail pharmacist’s role has changed in recent years.

The retail pharmacist’s role has changed more than anyone could have imagined in recent years. For example, they deliver an ever-growing list of vaccines, conduct medical tests, counsel patients, perform health screening, and review and complete orders for an increasing volume of prescriptions. 

Despite this changing and expanding workload, pharmacists still have the same number of hours in the day to accomplish everything. Adding to this challenge is the struggle to hire and retain pharmacy technicians. So, it is no wonder a 2021 survey of pharmacists found that three-quarters of pharmacists think they do not have enough time to perform clinical and non-clinical duties safely.

At the same time, pharmacists are embracing the changes occurring in their profession that enable them to practice at the top of their license. According to the previously cited survey, 75% of retail chain pharmacists and 53% of independent retail pharmacists state that they would like to spend more time devoted to patient counseling and medication therapy management.

Working smarter

Without adding more hours to an already long workday, one strategy for extending patient-facing time is to automate or better streamline essential duties in the pharmacist workflow.

Consider Drug Utilization Reviews (DURs). While they are critically important, they can be time-consuming—especially when a patient takes multiple maintenance medications for chronic conditions and needs to expand an already complex regimen. Traditionally, retail pharmacists need to consider major clinical domains—drug interactions, allergies, precautions, and dosing information—in a siloed approach and repetitively dismiss non-actionable alerts for the same patient.

Managing irrelevant notifications leaves inadequate time to consider relevant guidance and contributes to the distractions and stress pharmacists already endure during the day, according to results of a 2021 survey of Ohio pharmacists conducted by the state board of pharmacy. “Delivery of completed medication orders and the technology that helps with dispensing them are very important parts of the pharmacy puzzle,” said one of the retail pharmacists surveyed. “However, [the technology] can be very time-consuming and take focus away from thorough clinical review, timely completion of orders, and collaboration with doctors, nurses, and other pharmacists on important clinical issues.”

Solving the puzzle

Technology can drain a retail pharmacist’s time, but improvements in data analytics and artificial intelligence are helping eliminate manual or unneeded repetitive tasks within pharmacy management software. For example, actionable guidance to the pharmacist can be focused on the most important risks to the patient as reflected in the clinical record in the pharmacy system. 

A more patient-centered view consolidated from pharmacy data, as well as information from prescribers and insurers, offers pharmacists greater context to determine the most effective clinical course more efficiently, whether that is to fill the prescription, provide additional guidance to the patient, or follow up with the patient's physician.

For instance, guidance could include guideline-recommended therapeutic alternatives when available based on the patient’s risk or equipping the pharmacist with a scripted narrative for counseling the patient or discussing interventions with the physician. These innovations can help standardize pharmacist actions across all pharmacies.

DURs are only one area of a pharmacist’s workflow in need of streamlining, but it speaks to the larger goal of improving pharmacists’ experience through the elimination of time-wasting inefficiencies. In doing so, we can reduce the cognitive burden for busy pharmacists so they can spend more time on the most rewarding aspects of their job—patient care and counseling—that also enable them to practice at the top of their license, protect patient safety and help deliver optimal outcomes.

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Chirag Patel, PharmD, is senior product manager for FDB (First Databank).


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