Brooklyn, New York-based pharmacy owner Mike Bakayev got his start in pharmacy operations when he was hired as “the delivery guy” for a local family-owned operation. From there, he says he slowly worked his way up, eventually taking charge of overall sales. “It was a very old-school, community-focused environment in which the need for patient service was at the heart of everything we did,” Bakayev says.
“It was a great way to learn the pharmacy business,” he adds, and Bakayev carried that “patient first” sentiment as he struck out on his own, building a network of pharmacies that spans Brooklyn’s densely-populated, ethnically diverse neighborhoods. Bakayev purchased his first pharmacy, FriendlyRx in 2010. Since then, he established the Coney Island Chemist network of independent pharmacies, which currently includes 11 locations.
“Each pharmacy is dedicated to the people who live nearby,” Bakayev says. “We strive to truly know each patient, and make sure we’re on top of their medications, and give them the attention they deserve.” Like many pharmacy owners, Bakayev says the realities of today’s pharmacy environment can make it challenging to meet those objectives, and cites obstacles including DIR fees, reimbursements, and lack of visibility into patient refills and other processes.
“Reimbursements,” he says, is an especially big pain point. “We lose money on many of our medications. Still, we don’t want to lose the patient.”
Bakayev also faces challenges unique to owners of multiple pharmacies. Namely, the need for visibility into each location, and the ability to link all pharmacies via a single operating platform. As Bakayev attests, multi-pharmacy owners essentially face challenges on three distinct levels:
- Patient service. Each individual store needs to prioritize the patients it serves. This includes not only providing patients with their medications, but by also serving as a community healthcare resource.
- Operations management. Pharmacies must address increasingly complex payment and reimbursement processes, which account for an inordinate amount of staff time. “For many years I had a dedicated staff member at each store who did nothing but process claims and manage patient refills,” he notes.
- Network management. Overseeing the overall operation, with visibility at both the macro and micro level, and the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses across all functions.
Ease of Use
Bakayev is quick to credit the PrimeRx™ operating system for helping to address his comprehensive – and complex – needs. “I consider myself lucky because the pharmacy where I started out used PrimeRx™,” he says. “It was the first system I ever used, and it showed me how helpful technology could be.”
He has though, come across other systems in the process of acquiring new pharmacies. “One pharmacy relied on an old DOS system,” he said, referencing a type of processing system first introduced during the 1980s. “It was terribly inefficient, and when we switched over to PrimeRx™ it was like a night-to-day experience. PrimeRx™ was so easy to use and so efficient.”
The system’s ease of use is something Bakayev cites repeatedly, saying it helps busy pharmacists save time, and adds efficiency throughout the pharmacy. “If you can use Facebook, you can use PrimeRx™, it’s that easy.”
He is especially pleased at how quickly staff members can become proficient in mastering the system. “My newly-hired technicians have a basic understanding of the system within a few hours. By two weeks they know the system inside-and-out, and by three weeks they are using the billing and other advanced features.”
Aside from its easy-to-learn features, the system also makes it easier for staff members to access the information they need. “All the information appears on a single screen which means a pharmacist can quickly look over and have what they need.” Other systems, he explains require users to jump between screens and in some cases, to log onto new systems.
Bakayev says his pharmacies rely on PrimeRx™ “for everything – refills, expired refills, billing, you name it, we use it.” He is especially grateful for the system’s capabilities with regard to tracking patients’ medications and outcomes.
“While our staff might know each patient, it’d be impossible to remember each medication. PrimeRx™ provides this access, and also lets us know when a refill has run out.”
He also makes good use of the PrimeCOMM™ communications module, which enables important capabilities including texting, email and automated phone calls. He’s quick to note though, that many of his patients are elderly, and do not make use of email or cellphones. “Instead, we call these patients every Sunday afternoon,” he explains. “We check in with them, and remind them to take their medications, and when a refill is due.” Although these calls do not take place within PrimeCOMM™, notes about each call are seamlessly added to each patient’s record and stored within PrimeRx™.
And true to the character of their Brooklyn neighborhoods, many of Bakayev’s patients are immigrants to the U.S., and not fluent in English. He is grateful for PrimeRx™ functionality that allows labels and medication information to be printed in multiple languages. This includes integration with the Clinical Pharmacology solution offered by ClinicalKey, which offers medication information in more than 20 languages.
He also takes advantage of adherence packaging solutions available through PrimeRx™. “Our patients really trust their pharmacist, and they rely on us to explain their medications, and to make it as easy as possible to access them.”
PrimeCENTRAL™ for Multi-Store Management
As a multi-store owner though, Bakayev is especially grateful for the PrimeCENTRAL™ software module, which allows all locations to operate from a single platform. “Without PrimeCENTRAL™ we’d have a situation in which our pharmacies wouldn’t be able to talk to each other,” he explains. “We’d have different technology platforms that couldn’t be linked, resulting in each store operating as separate silo.”
With PrimeCENTRAL™, pharmacies that fall under the Coney Island Chemist umbrella operate as a single entity. Patients are able to visit any pharmacy, with the staff able to access their accounts and medications. Patients can have their prescriptions transferred between locations, which Bakayev says is very important. “We have one patient who uses two pharmacies, based on her changing schedule. It’s very nice that we can accommodate her and offer this convenience.”
As an owner, Bakayev credits PrimeCENTRAL™ with adding visibility and efficiency to his pharmacy network. “I can have real-time access to just about any data point I need,” he explains. “I can view all dispensing queues, inventory levels, and track sales at each store.”
He is also a big user of the system’s report capabilities, which allows users to order reports on a wide range of subjects and have them automatically delivered on a recurring basis. “These reports are such a help,” Bakayev says. “If I want to challenge a PBM, I can easily print out patient records and document all transactions. The extensive report capabilities also allow us to track patients, and really stay on top of their needs.”
PrimeRx™ – Responsive to Pharmacy Feedback
Staying on top of patient needs is, after all, a core mission of today’s busy pharmacies. To do this successfully, a pharmacy must be able to keep pace, and continually find ways to improve efficiency.
Bakayev gives the PrimeRx™ development team high marks for its willingness to listen to pharmacists, and develop solutions that address changing needs. “In many ways, I think I was instrumental in developing certain PrimeRx™ capabilities,” he jokes. But his point is well taken. Afterall, a pharmacy technology system can only be effective if it truly adds value to pharmacy operations. And without direct input from pharmacists, how can a technology system know which problems need to be addressed?
Looking ahead – a Powerful Tool in Navigating PBMs and Other Challenges
Like many owners, Mike Bakayev believes pharmacies face a future of even tighter reimbursements, increased DIR fees, and more frustrating challenges in getting paid. “It’s getting more and more difficult” he admits, but still, he remains firmly committed to his pharmacies and his patients.
“I know how much our patients appreciate what we do, and the important role our pharmacies have in their communities. That’s very rewarding,” he says. And, he notes, as long as pharmacies can count on technology systems like PrimeRx™ to add value and efficiency, the future will be very bright indeed.