Heidi Polek, R.Ph., Strategic Program Manager, DrFirst
Heidi Polek,
R.Ph., Strategic Program Manager, DrFirst

We evaluate and make changes in our everyday life even when things, like our iPhones or cars, may work perfectly well. There are always updates that pique our interest. Pharmacists, says Heidi Polek, R.Ph., strategic program manager at DrFirst, are hesitant to make dramatic changes with their businesses, and they shouldn’t be. There is a lot to gain from evaluating and implementing new processes and automation. Polek wants to encourage pharmacists to look carefully at their business and acknowledge what they are doing well, but also to evaluate how it could be better. With advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), there are ways to do tedious tasks more efficiently, giving pharmacists and staff more time to spend with new clinical services and collaborative care.

“Anytime you’ve got something coming up, a change of the calendar year or a change of an ownership, or a big event like COVID-19 — COVID really changed how pharmacies work today, how healthcare works — that’s the perfect time for a refresh,” says Polek.

What are the steps to take when you’re evaluating your current systems, and to consider what to change and how to implement those changes?

Define Goals: Everyone has goals for his or her business, and those goals can change as conditions change. COVID brought a lot of introspection into how we do work: Where do I need to grow my business? Is it just in prescriptions? Is it immunizations? Is it care collaboration? Map out your goals. Don’t be afraid of competition. If you hear someone is doing something you’d like to try, or something similar to what you’re doing, you should reach out to them and see how they did it, what their plan was.

Make It Collaborative: With any new workflow you’re going to impact the various roles in the pharmacy. You need to make sure that you have buy-in from your staff. Share your plans because you really are a team, especially in an independent pharmacy. Listen to their concerns and any apprehension, and do a lot of collaboration internally. There are resources through your pharmacy vendors and PSAO (pharmacy services administrative organization) as well as through fellow pharmacists. There are people with great ideas, and with your board of pharmacy, you know the regulations you’re up against. You do want to make sure whatever technology you bring into play meets all the regulations for your practice.

Identify the Problem Spots: The best way to find gaps in your workflow is where you’re consistently hitting roadblocks. Communication is a natural place to evaluate: It could be internal communication, or it could be external with your providers and your patients. How many times are you leaving written notes for staff members? With patients, how many times have you left a message and then the patient walks into the pharmacy? How many times are you stuck on hold with a doctor’s office? Then look at how people communicate today. If you step back and consider how computers changed pharmacy, it’s dramatic. Now there is technology like artificial intelligence and SMS (short message service) messaging that gives pharmacists tools for collaborative communication — within the pharmacy and between pharmacy and provider.

Prioritize People: The DrFirst communication tools are removing workflow inefficiencies. They take the burden of data entry off the pharmacy. Artificial intelligence is not replacing people, it’s automating tasks. “Our care collaboration solution lets pharmacists bring other people into a conversation,” says Polek. “With our chat solution it’s easy to move from a one-on-one conversation to a collaborative one with other staff or providers.” A pharmacist can redirect that time toward a patient and a doctor with a care collaboration tool. Use technology to make an appointment to meet face-to-face or via telehealth. “Set up that encounter via text message versus tying up the phone lines, trying to get hold of a patient or tying up a provider’s phone lines,” says Polek. “The care collaboration starts with the text or email, and then the one-on-one care is best done by appointment.”

Prioritize Services: Pharmacists struggle every day with someone trying to claw back at the bottom line. Focus on services that you can bill and get paid for that are outside of any type of clawback. “It’s just setting yourself up to practice at the top of your license, doing those clinical things that state legislatures are starting to hand out,” Polek says. “COVID really brought the value of pharmacy clinical services to the forefront. You can see how it all just starts to snowball and connect those workflows so much more efficiently.” CT

Maggie Lockwood is VP at ComputerTalk. She can be reached at maggie@computertalk.com.