EXCLUSIVE PHARMACY TECHNOLOGY CONTENT
Seeing the Technology, Envisioning the Applications
By ComputerTalk Contributing Editor Maggie Lockwood
ComputerTalk’s Maggie Lockwood spent an afternoon at TeleManager headquarters in Newark, N.J., to talk cloud services and the future of pharmacist-patient communication with TeleManager cofounders Paul Kobylevsky and Val Gurovich. During 15 years in the industry, Kobylevsky and Gurovich have always watched the evolving technology with a view to how it can apply to the pharmacy. With the growth in social media and cloud-based options, Kobylevsky and Gurovich develop TeleManager’s offerings, such as the iRefill Connect suite and new Facebook app, with the pharmacy’s patients in mind. TeleManager has five patents and customers in every state, as well as Puerto Rico.
CT: Share with us what you’re working on now.
Kobylevsky: We are improving and enhancing our cloud-based patented technology. At first we looked at the cloud just as a way to provide software updates to our pharmacies. The thinking was, “Great, if we need to install an update or fix a problem, we don’t have to go to the customer’s site.”
When we received our first patent for a cloud-based IVR, there was a lot of sceptism around it; some customers were saying that this is the way to go, but others thought it was not robust enough and the development of it had a way to go. Now, with all the new development that we put into iRefill Connect, everyone has a lot of interest in it. We believe that the future is with cloud computing. For example, we introduced one of our long-time customers to a cloud-based phone system, which he fell in love with. But when he found out about our cloud-based IVR, it made perfect sense to him to transition to it, too.
CT: What does the cloud allow you to offer?
Gurovich: The conventional pharmacy telecom setup used to be an in-store phone system, with IVR added. Interfacing with a variety of proprietary phone systems is always a great challenge. Now it’s all out of the store and in the cloud, seamlessly working together with no or minimum infrastructure on the ground.
Kobylevsky: The family of iRefill applications using cloud-based technology offers the same tools and services as our in-store IVR, Refill TeleManager. But using cloud-based technology allows pharmacies to get more sophisticated and cost-effective systems (less upfront investment and maintenance cost). Now we have added the iRefill Facebook app. This native Facebook application meets the requirements of large chains and small shops because they don’t need any special infrastructure.
We are creating a comprehensive suite of pharmacy automation services that reaches patients wherever they are and allows them to reach their pharmacy whenever they need to. The iRefill Facebook, mobile, and text services allow two-way direct communication between a patient and the pharmacy. This closes the loop.
CT: So the move is to SaaS applications?
Gurovich: Telephone-based in-store IVR is still a major product, but the telecommunication standards have changed. VOIP products are where we’re focusing on because they’re on the cutting edge, and that’s where we see the future of telecommunications.
Kobylevsky: When we first developed a flexible Windows-based IVR system with a user-friendly interface, there were some who said, “Why do we need this?” But ultimately, everybody moved to such a system. When the Internet came along, Val and I knew that it would cause a revolution and change the face of everything in the pharmacy world. We said we had to see how we could apply it. We had a lot of ideas, and we focused on this one, a cloud-based standby IVR. This was a low-cost IVR that let pharmacists control when an incoming phone call went to the IVR. One of the ideas was to get pharmacists over the fear of losing their personal touch.
I remember talking to one of our customers in Connecticut a couple of months after he installed it, and he was so happy. For the first time in 20 years, he said, he could start and finish his lunch. It was a new idea then, to have control over the phone flow.
Our next cloud-based product was an overflow manager, which directed incoming calls to a cloud-based IVR when the limited number of phone lines connected to the in-store IVR were busy. This product provided the pharmacy with a virtual phone line with unlimited capacity. Then we developed a full-blown cloud-based ASP IVR. All our cloud-based products interface with the pharmacy management system and are fully interactive with the pharmacy patients.
Now we see social media as a huge vehicle for the pharmacy to service their patients. We looked at the statistics. There are young people, mothers, baby boomers, who are all on Facebook all the time. The move to social media means the pharmacy has to have a presence there to use it as a marketing tool and a connection to the patient.
CT: So the end-user for the Facebook app is the pharmacy’s patient, not necessarily the pharmacist?
Gurovich: We developed a Facebook app that lets a patient order refills directly from their Facebook page. We see this app as another convenient tool for patients to communicate with their pharmacies. The pharmacy isn’t even required to have a Facebook page — the app is on the patient’s end and sends the refill order directly to the pharmacy management system. But the iRefill Connect suite of products offers a lot more than just refills. We see in the future an expansion of our cloud-based services. We’ve started planning already, and the conversation is changing as social media continues to increase.
Kobylevsky: Mobile apps are also progressing.
CT: It seems the shift now is technology that you can provide to pharmacists to then provide to their customers and patients.
Gurovich: Yes, our ideas are now more patient centric. They are more than just providing communications tools for the pharmacist.
Kobylevsky: With the in-store IVR, we focused on making it user-friendly for the pharmacist. Our vision was always that use of technology needs to be made easy. That’s why we developed this product using the Windows system. All the necessary information is filtered onto one screen, and it’s very intuitive to use. A tech can learn it in 15 minutes.
Gurovich: We continue to implement this vision in our cloud-based products where we focus on patient-friendly applications. We are paying a lot of attention to social media, where we see cloud services and patient-oriented technology heading. Pharmacists are seeking tools that give them more of a clinical reach. They see themselves as healthcare providers. If we can offer them tools that increase their role in healthcare delivery, there is the value. CT