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Thomas Hanzel, Pharm.D.

The media landscape is currently dominated by the news of vaccine distributions, specifically as one million vaccine doses were recently sent to 6,500 retail pharmacies across the country. Rightfully so, this news should be on the front pages, as hope spreads that the yearlong pandemic might finally have an end in sight. However, with a newfound focus and pressure on pharmacies and pharmacists as frontline healthcare providers, the industry needs to ensure these pharmacies are equipped to handle such demand.

The Care Never Stops — Not Even for a Pandemic


Although these retail pharmacies are beginning to receive vaccine doses, the ongoing care provided never stops. Independent pharmacies work tirelessly to keep their communities safe and healthy day in and day out — often filling gaps of care. Whether it is making phone calls to ensure medication adherence among patients, counseling patients at the pharmacy window, conducting screenings, delivering medications, or simply keeping day-to-day activities on track, these pharmacists are not lounging around the pharmacy with extra time on their hands — they are the face of care in the community.

In fact, more than 90% of Americans live within two miles of a community pharmacy, making the pharmacy an accessible point of care, and sometimes the only provider a patient relies on. During COVID-19, the role of these pharmacies and pharmacists was arguably exacerbated as patients wanted to steer clear of hospitals or their local providers for fear of contracting the virus — once again putting pharmacists on the front lines of care.

Pharmacy Automation — Streamlining Vaccine Efforts and Prioritizing Patient Care


With the vaccines beginning to arrive, pharmacists cannot put other care and work on hold. Some larger chain pharmacies have turned to hiring additional pharmacists and technicians, with pharmacy job listings up 35% compared to last year. However, for smaller, independent pharmacies, this is not always an option.

How can pharmacists streamline operations, reallocate their staff, and put a focus on immunization efforts? Pharmacy automation.

Through implementing pharmacy technology automation, pharmacists no longer need to be with their heads down, counting pills or filling prescriptions. Instead, they can practice at the top of their license focusing on counseling patients and working on clinical initiatives such as immunizations. Automation can take the repetitiveness of dispensing away from the staff. Let machines do what they are designed to do, which is count the pills and verify their accuracy. Let pharmacists focus on the roles they were meant and trained to do, which is improving outcomes and giving patients a professional ear to be listened to. We know that the current vaccines are two series, meaning a patient will need to visit the pharmacy twice, and will most likely have questions and concerns. By having pharmacy technology running quietly behind the scenes, staff members can focus on what they do best — taking time to care for the patient.

Business After COVID-19


Not only is pharmacy automation beneficial for the COVID-19 vaccine efforts, but for all immunizations. Each year, retail pharmacies are the go-to location for the flu shot. If automation can help staff reallocate their time, the immunization process is streamlined, patients can be in and out of the pharmacy more quickly, and workflow goes undisrupted.

However, immunization is just one part of the value of automation. With reallocated time, pharmacists can work on additional clinical initiatives, blood pressure screening, disease state review, true medication management, and practice at the top of their license. During the pandemic, we saw innovative retail pharmacies survive, and some even flourish. These are the pharmacists who already had automation enabling them to focus their attention on delivery options and enhanced patient care. While we never anticipate another pandemic, technology can help businesses pivot quickly and when most necessary, despite what challenges they may face.

Most pharmacies are already filling enough scripts that would allow for an immediate return on investment on the technology. Not to mention the flexibility for growth and expandable services as time is freed up to plan.

Making the Time When There Isn’t Time


There is no question pharmacies are under immense pressure as they work to not only keep their communities safe and healthy but also to vaccinate both in-house and often at long-term care facilities in their area. Through the use of pharmacy technology, these pharmacies can feel confident in the ability to have pill counting and packaging completed accurately and quietly in the back while they work at the top of their license to deliver vaccines, care, and education. Pharmacists have always been recognized as frontline healthcare providers, but now as demands on their time increase, technology can only help to improve efficiency and drive improved care. CT

Thomas E. Hanzel, Pharm.D., MBA, is an industry thought leader and the national VP of long-term care and nutraceuticals at Parata, an automation company that provides pharmacy technology solutions that support business growth, better health outcomes, and lower medical costs.

Learn more about Parata’s solutions here or leave a comment or question below.