Maintaining a Patient-Focused Community Pharmacy with Consumer Technology
By Dale Danilewitz, Executive Vice President and CIO, AmerisourceBergen
The role of pharmacists is changing as they are increasingly becoming the first line of defense for patients in need of answers regarding their treatment plans, medications and other health and wellness-related questions. Nowhere is this felt more acutely than in the independent community pharmacy, where close ties between the pharmacist and the patients they serve foster an even higher level of trust. Independent pharmacies are a vital source of personalized, high quality and cost-effective care for patients across the country. As the industry dynamics have changed over the last decade, independent pharmacists have also evolved, utilizing new sets of tools to continue to deliver their unique brand of care.
Today, many independent pharmacists employ the same technologies utilized by e-commerce giants, such as Amazon and Walmart. In many regards, consumer technology is driving healthcare innovation as integrated platforms are being widely adopted by the pharmacy for back-end ordering purposes and customer and patient interactions. These technology-driven platforms are doing more than just creating efficiencies and conveniences, they allow pharmacists to allocate more time towards what they do best - helping patients get and stay healthy.
In addition to handling patient and customer interactions, independent pharmacists are responsible for managing everything from front-end sales to back-end operational performance, including ordering and managing inventory. When consumer technologies are integrated into ordering platforms, such as AmerisourceBergen’s ABC Order, pharmacists benefit from accelerated and simplified inventory management, which ultimately elevates their business. With outdated technology in older systems, pharmacists could spend up to an hour or more finding and ordering medications or processing returns. Not only were these tasks tedious and time consuming, but they took valuable time away from patient interactions. The implementation of multi-user and search functionalities enables more nimble, and streamlined access and ordering to improve workflow.
"Consumer technology is driving healthcare innovation as integrated platforms are being widely adopted by the pharmacy for back-end ordering purposes and customer and patient interactions"
Independent pharmacists also need the convenience of an intuitive system so they can delegate responsibilities to other employees and continue to maintain a patient-focused business. Employee training is another critical area where consumer technology is being put into practice in independent pharmacies. User experience enhancements, from features such as advance filters and “alternative search,” mean employees are trained faster and are out on the floor sooner. Continuing to evolve these systems with consumer technology will lead to more intuitive onboarding, especially as the next generation of independent pharmacists begins to enter the workforce.
Previously, pharmacists’ inventory management responsibilities required them to manually monitor national codes and track medication exceptions. This daily monitoring and tracking not only took away time from patient interactions, but also heightened the possibility for mistakes or oversights. With real-time tracking, pharmacists can rely on their ordering platform to monitor and react to changes in National Drug Codes (NDCs) and manage irregular inventory, eliminating human error. With the implementation of smart monitoring/reactive technologies, pharmacists are automatically notified when certain medications are out of stock and are reminded of upcoming re-orders. These new systems also use algorithms to project availability dates for out-of-stock or harder-to-access medications.
Due to the imminent barcode serialization requirements issued by the Drug Quality and Security Act (DQSA), compliance is becoming even more important for professionals that deal with pharmaceutical products. Quick-response (QR) code readers are now commonplace for nutrition and shopping mobile applications. The same technology that allows consumers to quickly scan a barcode for additional product information is similarly being used by pharmacists to ensure incoming medications meet FDA compliance requirements. As part of an inventory management system, the QR barcode reader creates convenience, but also serves a more important purpose – ensuring product compliance.
As consumer technology enters the healthcare space, their functionalities have become desirable, but security has also become a top concern for healthcare providers. In today’s world of system breaches and hacks, it’s imperative to protect against system vulnerabilities to keep patient data safe. The enhanced security technology that allows consumers to confidently manage money through mobile banking applications has also recently been implemented into pharmacy ordering systems. One example of this is with controlled substance ordering (CSOS) where systems require a certificate for verification purposes. Former systems only allowed for one or two computers to have access to CSOS certificates. New platforms make it safe for certificates to be linked to a user’s account and accessible from any system computer upon login.
In an age dominated by e-commerce companies, community pharmacists are experiencing the convenient, intuitive, and secure features of consumer technology in their inventory management and ordering platforms. Pharmacists are successfully elevating their patient-focused businesses by utilizing technologies to streamline daily front-end and back-end responsibilities. As a result, they are gaining back essential time to meet the high-touch needs of their patients – the element that distinguishes independent pharmacies as vital sources of care in communities across the country.