RxMedic Vice President David Williams has been around pharmacy technology for over 30 years. This has given him a keen eye for trends, and in this interview he talks about two areas of automation where he’s seen shifting interest in the chain market recently: low-cost counting technology and will-call automation. Williams discusses why RxMedic is focusing on these areas to meet the needs of the chain pharmacy market.
ComputerTalk: David, let’s start talking about dispensing automation. What are you seeing right now in the chain market?
David Williams: We’re seeing chains moving away from high-end automation at the store level. There’s plenty of data that shows that they’re moving to central fill, and in some cases, mail order, and moving away from high-end robotics at the individual pharmacy level. Where we’re seeing the market for in-store automation going is toward inexpensive counting technology.
This is one reason why we’ve focused our efforts on our RxMedic RM1, which is a small, simple, vision-based pill counter. Pharmacies have a lot of options for tabletop counting devices, and our product is really intended to be as simple a solution as possible for reducing the costs and time associated with counting oral solid prescriptions. If you’re paying staff $50 to $70 an hour and they’re spending time counting manually, the return on investment for the RM1 is pretty clear.
It also has an accumulation function that allows you to use it for taking inventory, or for doing counts of C2s.
CT: What other trends are you seeing in terms of chain investment in automation?
Williams: Well, one thing I know from all my years of experience is that when you’re on the trade show circuit and you see more and more vendors offering a certain product, that’s pretty good evidence of a trend. And we’ve been seeing a lot of will-call automation systems out there.
CT: OK, so break down the benefits of will-call automation.
Williams: Sure. First thing is that it streamlines and improves your workflow process. It cleans up the look of your customer-facing area and eliminates the potential for error. RxMedic Automated Retrieval System (ARS) is designed to drive the bag system from your pharmacy management system workflow — whether that’s Rx30, PioneerRx, QS/1, or whatever the case may be. There’s no separate application to manage, and that’s a huge advantage from a workflow and training standpoint. Pharmacy clerks and technicians are using the software that they’re already familiar with.
And then there’s the process logic that you can implement when you’ve got a will-call system that’s integrated with your pharmacy management software. So, for example, every pharmacy should have rules about how long prescriptions can stay in will-call. Along the way to, say, the 14-day mark, your IVR may be making outbound pickup reminder calls or you may be texting patients, but once you hit that 14-day mark you want to be able to reverse the claim and return the prescription to stock. Now in our situation, you have the ability to quickly identify all the bags that are ready to be returned to stock. There’s no sorting through bins, looking at labels — ARS just illuminates the bags to pick.
Then the integration between ARS and the pharmacy software automatically increments the on-hand field for the medications being returned to stock, which makes a huge difference for keeping your perpetual inventory accurate.
There’s also another very common scenario that integrated will-call addresses, which is when you have a patient standing at your counter who hands you a prescription for a drug that’s out of stock on your shelves, but is sitting in your will-call. You can search ARS by specific NDC and find that medication in a few seconds, rather than sorting through hundreds of bags. You increase your service level by filling the prescription for the patient who’s waiting, and in this age of daily deliveries from wholesalers, a chain running perpetual inventory successfully should be expecting a restock shortly anyway. And you replace that prescription that was in will-call then.
So you’ve got a number of useful tools with will-call automation like ARS, and then there’s the fact that will-call automation is the final step in eliminating the error of dispensing the wrong drug to the wrong patient, with the resulting HIPAA violation and the risk for an adverse medication event.
CT: Taking all of that into consideration, how are chains approaching finding their return on investment (ROI) for will-call automation?
Williams: The first source of return is pretty obvious, I think, and that’s the immediate reduction in labor. Even in an efficient manual will-call process, there’s no way you are locating a prescription in seconds, which is what the ARS allows. The second thing, and this is one that I think gets overlooked, is the ROI from better inventory management from the consistent application of prescription aging and return-to-stock rules. And then the third, which you might argue is the most important consideration, is that final verification of right patient and right drug, which is reducing your legal liability. These are really the three areas that any pharmacy wants to consider when trying to evaluate whether it makes sense to automate will-call.
CT: When we’re talking about will-call automation, we’re talking about something more than using pharmacy system reporting or IVR (interactive voice response) outbound calling to manage will-call, right?
Williams: Yes, those are valuable tools for managing will-call, but if you look at automation as a whole in terms of what it does for pharmacy, the critical area that’s often ignored in most pharmacies, not intentionally, is that last particular point of interaction with the patient where they are picking up the prescription. And this is where will-call automation comes in and brings something well beyond what you can achieve with, for example, reporting and IVR. Here I’m talking about an integrated will-call bag management system like our RxMedic Automated Retrieval System (ARS), which uses hangers with LED lights to ID the bag you are requesting to retrieve.
CT: You mentioned about the value of simplicity. What are the most important features if a chain is looking for a stripped-down counter?
Williams: In cases where a chain is being really cost conscious, we see them start to ask questions such as: Do we need an interface with the pharmacy management system? Do we need the counting device to store drug images or check an NDC against? Now again, there are plenty of other products that have those functions, but we chose not to build the RM1 as another one of those. Our goal was to produce something that very simply streamlines the counting process as cost-effectively as possible.
To this end, the RM1 has a very small footprint, weighs less than six pounds, doesn’t require any networking, and only needs a standard 110-volt wall outlet to be up and running. This means you can pretty much move it around as you see fit so, for example, it can be positioned for prescription counting most of the time and moved elsewhere to do inventory counts as needed. At the same time, we’re at a price point where it is easier to make the case for putting multiple units in a single location. CT