EXCLUSIVE PHARMACY TECHNOLOGY CONTENT
voiceTech at 20
By ComputerTalk Editor Maggie Lockwood
After 20 years of installing IVR system in pharmacies, voiceTech company co-founder and President Tim Garofalo tells ComputerTalk’s Maggie Lockwood how the company grew out of a phone conversation with his mother. From its beginnings handling inbound calls with an IVR system and five employees, the Sarasota, Fla., now has over 30 employees, and pharmacy clients in the United States and Canada.
CT: How did voiceTech come about?
Tim Garofalo: Sara [Garofalo] and I are both technical people, engineering people, and we were working in the computer, telecom, IVR, and voicemail industry. While doing some consulting, we decided to found voiceTech based on building a little network through the general telecom industry. We knew we wanted to go off on our own and provide products to companies across the country, and we knew enough people through our network. I was not a software engineer, I was the guy who went out and provided engineering sales support. Sara was the application design expert at the telecom/voicemail company we previously worked for; taking what people wanted and getting that into the application. We were both very hands-on when we started in November of 1993.
At initial conception, the company had nothing to do with pharmacy; we worked with companies in the general telecom industry. It was in the spring of 1995 that we got into the pharmacy side of it. We had a few pharmacy customers who were not happy writing down prescription messages from their voicemail, and then my mother told me how she’d call for a refill and the lines would be busy. When she would have a chance to call back, the pharmacy would be closed so she would call back in the morning. She said to me, “You make these kind of things for all kinds of businesses. Can’t you do something to make it easier for me to refill my prescriptions at the pharmacy?” Sara and I brainstormed during a trip to visit a telecom vendor in Puerto Rico, and the rest is history.
CT: How did you first connect with pharmacy?
Garofalo: Sara saw other problems, too, and said “Can you imagine the problems for people on multiple medications and the mistakes made when transcribing voice messages?” She gleaned a lot of information from a friend who was an Eckerd Drug pharmacist and I talked with a Kmart pharmacist who said, “If you had a system that could handle the calls, young man, if you could do that, you’d be a millionaire.” So Sara and I started developing using the software tools we had to create a little application we could show to pharmacists. We showed a local independent pharmacy owner what we were doing and he allowed us to install and test the IVR at his store. We watched what people did with it and we started learning. That’s how we moved into pharmacy.
About three months after it was up and running we had requests to start actually selling it. Sara thought up the name Tele-Fill, I researched trade magazines, and we ran an ad in October 1995. Our hope was to get interest from independent pharmacists, however we started getting calls from Rite Aid and Walmart. We weren’t expecting these people to call — we wanted to get our feet wet with independents. I got out my one suit, went to visit with these chains, and nine months later in August 1996, Rite Aid signed a contract for 3,000 units. They liked working with a small company since they knew we’d serve them well. Throughout 1996 we were still getting calls from ads and we started installing a few systems in independents, but we didn’t have the interfaces to the many different pharmacy management database systems out there. What we did for independents was print out refill requests to a small printer attached to the IVR. But this is what put us on the map and got us the resources to go after the market.
CT: What was the next step after IVR?
Garofalo: As customers learned to use the pharmacy IVR, they started asking for more. A perfect example was customers asking us if we could start offering a doctor fax authorization. They would say, “This patient has no refills and you’re pushing the message into the queue; can’t we just fax it out? It opened our eyes. By this time our very first employee, Duane Smith, was totally engulfed in the product and was a sponge for learning about everything pharmacy. We all spent more time at the stores to learn their pain and ways to incorporate really productive benefits into our products. Solutions like when patients are asked if they want to leave a message with their prescription order, and the message attaches to the refill so the pharmacy can listen to it. Features like that really enhanced the user the experience.
CT: How has technology changed voiceTech’s offerings?
Garofalo: Our evolution comes from customer demand. As we were learning more about pharmacy, we were also learning about the long-term care market and we launched a product specifically for that market. As well, the IVR interface was used to trigger an outbound call that a prescription was ready, but now the IVR interfaces to point-of-sale and will-call as well. Ten years ago that didn’t exist; it was a challenge to know when the prescriptions were ready for pickup. We solved that hurdled in a basic way and in 2005 that got traction. We thought we could do better with how we do refill reminders — how the system could trigger a call from the data in the interface and design a system to make the myriad of decisions in that process. As text and email messaging became more popular we released another product. This was more sophisticated and took us outside the IVR and into our outbound services. The system has a big thinking engine.
Now, there are a lot of times when outbound and inbound systems might need to be cloud based as that technology has become more reliable and secure. And of course, now with VoIP as a phone service, that facilities all of this.
CT: Tell us a little bit about your outbound messaging and communication tools.
Garofalo: Our outbound communication solution is called ServiceLink-Rx, which has been out since 2012. With it we have so much analysis in the platform that we’ll be able to offer more and more pieces that will dig deeper and plan things out and give the pharmacy owner the tools to drive programs like medication synchronization and campaigns to the individual patients. Let’s say a patient is on diabetic medications, and every time he gets a refill, he would get a message about a service in the pharmacy. The logic in the system lets it create targeted messaging. That’s exciting because you can take a tool that’s software-based or Web-based like ServiceLink-Rx and give it to an independent or small chain pharmacy and overnight they too have the power to connect to the pharmacy customers just like the bigger chains do with all the promotional and Rx related emails, text, outbound calls and mobile app. A new campaign theme we are considering is, ‘You can run with the big dogs’.
After 20 years in business, Sara, Duane, and I have had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful customers we are also privileged to call friends. Our goal is to continue learning and creating solutions that enhance the pharmacy experience and benefit people; like that busy Kmart pharmacist and my mom. CT