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An interview with voiceTech’s CEO Tim Garofalo

In this interview with ComputerTalk’s Maggie Lockwood, voiceTech’s CEO Tim Garofalo shares with us the newest trends in interactive voice response (IVR) as it evolves from handling phone traffic to providing true interactive data analysis and a communication platform for pharmacy.

CT: Tell us about the new trend in hosted or cloudbased phone services, how voiceTech is positioned to address the trend, and why it’s important to pharmacy.

Garofalo: We all know in the last five or so years technology providers in any industry, and customers, are looking at new ways to be more efficient with their budget and with their staffing, and at the same time have access to the newer features and functionality available in today’s Web-, VoIP- [voice over Internet protocol] and mobile-based world. Having hosted, cloud-based, or centralized services can be more economical and efficient in many cases; whether it’s a hosted phone system or IVR, or an outbound adherence messaging service, or cloud-based communication services that integrate to each other and with the pharmacy. This is not only the trend, but will be the norm in just a few short years. Hosted phone services have better features, whether an owner or pharmacy director wants to log into a portal and change the phone settings, or set the rings to different directions. There is an advantage for someone who says they want an IVR solution and an outbound solution for adherence programs. The databases and software are also out in the cloud, so we don’t have to put hardware in the pharmacy; we network the pharmacy to the cloud.

CT: With so much information coming into the pharmacy, tell us how the fusion-Rx dashboard gives pharmacists more control over managing the entire pharmacy.

Garofalo: With this connection, pharmacy staff or the owner can use a browser from any location to view data and look at incoming and outgoing traffic, with the ability to change parameters based on what they are seeing. If it’s snowing and the store will not be open, they can turn on an inbound greeting that says, “We’re closed.” The cloud brings down the upstart cost, since there’s no hardware and no technician needed on site.

There is room for this service in the market. I’d say 75% of independents and small chains, say under 20 doors, have a legacy IVR system, a box in the store that is eight years old or older, and doesn’t support the new software that’s available today so that the features can be tied together. All the vendors say they are able to upgrade the pharmacy to a newer platform, and tie five or six cool solutions together. With the new platform, we’d prefer customers to be hosted, although we can of course put a new platform system (box) in the store. The way the databases are designed, the box can be in the store and on a network, and the cloud can see it as part of the overall cloud services we offer. It’s the way of the world today.

For the vast majority of pharmacies, our customers and new customers, it’s not just about IVR; communication and networking is about supporting adherence. The communications still exist, but it goes much deeper than that. It’s a browser-based, secured tunnel that communicates with the cloud, providing real-time data. This is real, and we’re doing it all the time. There’s an IVR system in the store, but we have a secure network tunnel to the adherence data that’s in the cloud. This connection allows the user to see that someone has opened a mobile app, and the data is coming through the cloud server. The fusion-Rx communication and adherence platform provides us with the ability to magically and quietly run the cloud-based service in the background.

A big portion of our work has been the redesign of the software so it can be cloud based; it’s virtualized so that we are putting our software on third-party cloud servers, or even our chain customer’s data center servers. Now, with a native VoIP system or network, it will communicate with the cloud without adaptors. It’s the software that is both cloud and browser friendly, allowing us to offer it in different configurations, providing the pharmacy owner with the ability to log on from any Web-based browser, to view the transactions and events that day and/or run date range reports.

CT: With so much information coming into the pharmacy, tell us how the fusion-Rx dashboard gives pharmacists more control over managing the entire pharmacy, from any location, and what that means for improved business intelligence.

Garofalo: The administrative dashboard is integrated into the inbound and the outbound communication system, and anyone who has log-in credentials can access the information via their Web browser from anywhere; it’s not necessary to be in the pharmacy. Pharmacists can look at the activity for the day, set up specific parameters and forms to track what they are in interested in, and generate reports.

Back in the day, say 10 years ago, we, along with our competitors, were selling IVR systems at the store level. Maybe a pharmacy had a server with 20 stores, and the administration tool was Windows based, and it had to be on a Windows PC, and on the store network; it was not flexible. Today it’s a whole different ballgame.

Data is king — and by pharmacists using this data, they are able to determine the busiest times of the day in their pharmacy and schedule staff accordingly to handle the load, as well as view prescription histories.

The dashboard tab provides access for checking inbound and outbound messaging, seeing which customers are getting on the Internet for refills or requesting a refill through a mobile device. We also offer a fax option. Pharmacists are given the ability to view data from the events of the day, the week, the year, or even since service was activated. They are using this data, the inbound calls, the outbound texts, the busiest times of day, and they are running an analysis so they can see and feel the ROI [return on investment]. They tell us “My staff is jumping for joy,” since a lot of the staff, like the pharmacy techs, are younger and are technology drivers. This is cool, because they are filling prescriptions via telephone, online, or on their mobile device, which enables us to measure who is using what. Data is king — and by pharmacists using this data, they are able to determine the busiest times of the day in their pharmacy and schedule staff accordingly to handle the load, as well as view prescription histories. Pharmacists want and need a vehicle for viewing information at a glance, providing them with a tool that will help their pharmacies grow and measure their ROI.

There is a huge story being told here. For example, you can reach out to someone via an automated call, and the software detects if the person is two days late filling a diabetic medication. The pharmacist has the ability to tell if you’ve reached the patient on the phone; that’s recorded as a success. They can see the duration of the call, if it went far enough for the patient to ID himself, and yes, if they ordered the prescription or not. The system will show the prescription in the queue. The pharmacist can look at the report of outbound calls, sort by success or failure, see if a failure is because of a bad number, and ask the patient for the correct phone number. We recommend things in the help menu, but we’re finding pharmacists have creative ways to use the data.

CT: What’s new regarding online and mobile prescription services, and what will it mean for the pharmacy communication with customers?

Garofalo: With mobile, it means a number of different things — it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a mobile app. You could have a mobile-friendly Web page that can be used on a patient’s mobile device. Clicking on an icon or button to receive a form to fill out was easy on the computer; but now the form is mobile friendly, and when it expands a little, patients can tap in the information required. We don’t develop the mobile apps; we have recommended vendor partners and voiceTech provides the real-time Rx integration path. Sometimes pharmacists say they don’t want a full mobile app, just a mobile-friendly website, or Rx refill form, in which case we can step in easily. Whether from a computer or mobile device, pharmacies can offer patients an option to log in to see what prescriptions are in their Rx profile, which is relatively new.

CT: As a follow-up, how does Quick-Refill improve the pharmacist-customer relationship?

Garofalo: As time has gone on, we have offered more than just the refill on the mobile device. These are services we offered years ago on the phone, because it offers the interaction, that you can tell a patient there isn’t a refill or ask, “Do you want the pharmacy to contact the doctor for you?” This is now possible on the mobile device, either with an app or the mobile form, and it goes further; it asks if the patient wants to leave a message or request. Independents want to offer that extra level of service, even with retail items. If the patient adds items to their prescription order, the pharmacy can have it bagged and ready to go. We are enhancing the online and mobile side, making it more user friendly for things that made access awkward a few years ago when interacting with the IVR system over the phone.

The fusion-Rx tagline is “The next generation communication and adherence platform.” It means full access to the patient and data. It’s really a different ball game.

CT: How do voiceTech tools put pharmacists in the center of the healthcare home when it comes to chronic care management?

Garofalo: If you stop and think for a second about the impact the advances that inbound IVR had on the industry 20 years ago, the advantages were obvious; it frees up staff, allows staff to talk to patients when they are in the store. A comprehensive “patient communication and adherence solution” magnifies this by five, and even more if the various services are hosted or cloud based. It all adds up as we see our pharmacists and they are saying, I’m filling more prescriptions and able to drive adherence programs. It’s one of the pieces of the puzzle.

CT: What technology do you see really coming to the forefront, one that pharmacists will not believe they had lived without?

Garofalo: Our goal is to get our current and new customers to move past voiceTech as a vendor that only offers IVR. We are a provider of communication and adherence technology solutions. If a pharmacist is looking for cloud-based services that engage patients, and a fully integrated dashboard, then we are your patient communications vendor. You can set the system up and contact us with questions; we can walk you through the dashboard and answer questions or even screen-share to answer the questions. The fusion-Rx tagline is “The next generation communication and adherence platform.” It means full access to the patient and data. It’s really a different ball game. CT