My small-town pharmacy’s big-time innovation

Here’s what happened when 5th Avenue Pharmacy tested out new software to streamline their pharmacy workflow.
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Nothing about 5th Avenue Pharmacy or the town of Glasgow says, “test market.”

With only about 3,000 residents, our town is nestled in the northeast corner of Montana. We were amused when The Washington Post officially proclaimed Glasgow as America’s “middle of nowhere” because the town is the furthest distance away from the nearest metropolitan area.

We share a building with Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital, a 25-bed full-service facility that owns the pharmacy. We’re the kind of place that will stay open an extra half hour to fill a prescription for a local farmer working late in the field or a patient traveling from a neighboring town.

We serve neighboring communities beyond Glasgow — a long-term care facility, assisted living center and group homes, filling more than 300 prescriptions daily and even twice that much on some days. Our clinical services, which include asthma education, medication synchronization, vaccinations and medication adherence reviews, bring great value to the community but also require additional face-to-face time with patients.

We continually look for innovative ways to streamline our day-to-day operations to free up more time for direct patient care for our three full-time pharmacists and five certified pharmacy technicians.

That’s why we were intrigued a few years back when we were asked by SpeedScript, our pharmacy management system, to partner with them in a pilot program to test new software from DrFirst to streamline our pharmacy workflow. 

After several conversations with DrFirst, we saw how much we stood to gain and took the leap. We started working with their AI-enhanced program that translates prescription instructions from the doctors’ prescribing software into language that works in our pharmacy management system.

“Tools like these help you make the most of your limited resources and deliver better service to your patients.”

People who don’t work in pharmacies are surprised to learn that even with electronic prescribing, pharmacy staff still manually enter much of a prescription’s contents, including the instructions, called “sigs,” into our pharmacy management systems.

This time-consuming task is more than inefficient; it’s an opportunity to introduce keyboard errors that could harm patients. Yet it’s necessary for 84% of all prescriptions, according to a recent study. That’s because electronic health record systems don’t speak the same language as pharmacy systems or patients, which means the sigs arrive as blocks of text instead of in discrete fields that populate our software and use terms that are hard for patients to understand.

The new software, which integrated easily into our existing SpeedScript pharmacy management system, helped immediately. For example, our hospital typically writes sigs in strength sizes, such as “take 40 mg,” which is confusing for patients. This program automatically converts the sigs to simpler language, such as “take one tablet,” which is easier for patients to understand, increases efficiency and significantly reduces opportunities for keyboard errors.

This was followed by a program that integrates patient allergy information from an electronic prescription right into our dispensing system and flags potentially dangerous contraindications. We can then contact the prescriber before the patient arrives and decide the best course of action.

The vendor was great to work with, and we’re proud that we provided feedback to help refine such valuable tools. We’re working more efficiently than ever and have more time for customer service and patient care.

In most instances, I’d be wary of saying what works in Glasgow will work anywhere, but in this case, I’m going to make an exception. My message for other independent pharmacies is to embrace innovative and practical AI technology. Tools like these help you make the most of your limited resources and deliver better service to your patients. So, whether your pharmacy is in a small town or a big city, it can have an outsized impact on health and well-being in your community.

5th Avenue Pharmacy and Gifts is a DrFirst 2022 Healthiverse Hero Award winner for its innovative use of technology to transform health care to improve patient outcomes.

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