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Pharmacy technology: Is your dispensary behind the times?

March 4, 2024

Keeping up with technology is a full-time job these days. News of some world-altering breakthrough (or at least hype about it) seems to bombard us on a daily basis, and even looking backward at how fast pharmacy technology has already changed is enough to induce vertigo. Think about it: the first iPhone was released less than 17 years ago, and since then it has been part of a tech-driven revolution that has transformed pretty much all our lives.
So, here’s a question for pharmacist-owners: How much has the technology in your dispensary changed over the past 17 years?
If the answer falls somewhere between “Not very much” and “Huh?”, then you might be not just behind the times, but also making your life more difficult – and your pharmacy less profitable – than it should be.

#1 - Business Objective - Embrace Innovation

At the start of the year, we listed “embrace innovation” as one of the 12 core business objectives every pharmacist-owner should have on their agenda for 2024. Now, that’s not because we believe there is anything inherently virtuous about being on the cutting edge of technology. But we do believe that pharmacy technology has improved dramatically over the past few years not just in terms of efficiency enhancements, but also in terms of affordability. We also know that the job of a pharmacist has changed a lot, and the judicious adoption of new technology can make a big difference.
These days, pharmacists are clinicians. With the expansion in allowed services in most Canadian jurisdictions, they are spending a lot of time assessing, prescribing, following up on patients, delivering vaccinations, developing care plans and, in some provinces, ordering lab work.
Software-based solutions like online schedulers and patient care platforms designed especially for pharmacies can support pharmacists in keeping track of all those activities and scheduling for optimal efficiency. New software applications also integrate prescribing functions with filling software for seamless transition in workflow. This software will even prompt for vaccination opportunities, care plan opportunities and updates.
It’s easy to see the potential payoff of these innovations: increased efficiency in the dispensary and in service delivery, along with more satisfied customers.
When it comes to hardware, dispensary robots can ease stress on your pharmacy team’s technical functions and free up time to devote to potentially higher-margin services delivery. From sorting and pill counting to adherence packaging and dispensing, robotics technology can streamline virtually every stage in the pharmacy workflow to save time, reduce errors and prevent narcotics theft.
According to Peter Brennan, vice-president at ScriptPro Canada, a provider of robotics and software solutions for pharmacies, interest in integrating automation technologies has boomed not just for big high-volume pharmacies, but also for smaller independents.
“In the last year or two, robotics has become a really big deal,” says Brennan. “One reason is lack of available staff, whether it’s pharmacists or technicians or assistants. There’s also the reality of growing responsibilities for pharmacy staff. What robotics can do is help to give them time back.”
Bulk dispensing robots can take on repetitive manual dispensing tasks – and they do so with no human error. The technology will probably have the most impact on the pharmacy assistant’s tasks, but they actually free up time for every team member. Because there is no human error in the robot’s dispensing, technicians only have to “check” the prescription rather than counting and then checking. So, they can spend more time on higher margin activities like compliance packaging or assisting the pharmacist in professional services preparation and completion. And in lower-volume stores, the pharmacist has capacity to work on more time-consuming tasks without any assistance – and to focus on patient service.
Of course, robots might not be appropriate for every independent pharmacy. Usually, the barriers boil down to cost and prescription volume. But while automation tech is capital-intensive, the cost can be very competitive with comparable staff salaries over time. And in some markets where qualified labour is especially scarce, the cost of robotics is less of a consideration than the reality that pharmacies can’t find staff at almost any price.
New technology can also open up new business opportunities and give a pharmacy a competitive advantage. For instance, we know of one ingenious pharmacist who set up a robot-equipped dispensary where the goal was to complete scripts in under five minutes – and it was a drive-thru operation!
Of course, pharmacy is and likely always will be a people-oriented business. But that is precisely why we encourage pharmacist-owners to familiarize themselves with new technologies and figure out whether they are good fits. When adopted judiciously, today’s software and hardware solutions have the potential to vastly improve the customer experience, reduce wait times and eliminate waste. They can help pharmacist-owners address the chronic shortage of qualified dispensary staff. And perhaps most importantly, they can create revenue opportunities and improve margins.
In short, if your dispensary technology is 20 years old and you’re looking for a way to boost efficiency and profitability (and, by the way, your pharmacy’s market value), it might be high time to get with the times.
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