First came news in 2022 that CVS was implementing a mandatory lunch break, during which pharmacies would shut down for 30 minutes each day, as a way to ensure pharmacists and technicians got a break from their hectic schedules. Then came a series of September/October 2023 walkouts, during which pharmacists from various CVS and Walgreens stores staged protests to highlight concerns about working conditions. As reported by NBC News, the protests – dubbed “Pharmageddon” – were intended to push the chains to hire more staff “and to eliminate policies that push [pharmacists] to work harder.”

All this comes at a time when pharmacists have never had a more prominent, more vital role in patient care. Consider a few eye-popping statistics:

  • According to IQVIA, 60-70% of vaccinations during flu season (third and fourth quarters) take place at pharmacies. Pharmacies saw a 30-40% increase in claims submitted for flu vaccines between 2018 and 2020.
  • Research by Wolters Kluwer Health found 58% of Americans are likely to visit a local pharmacy as a first step when faced with a non-emergency medical issue, with 81% saying they would trust a pharmacist, nurse, or nurse practitioner to diagnose a minor illness.
  • Nearly 80% of patients consider pharmacists an integral component of their healthcare team, according to research by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

It’s a classic good news/bad news scenario: Pharmacies have become essential community wellness centers, but serious staffing issues threaten their ability to perform at the high levels they prefer, and patients deserve.

How bad is the staffing shortage? Among community pharmacies, 2022 research by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) found more than 70% had staff positions vacant, according to Drug Topics. “As a result,” the report noted, some pharmacies have had to adjust hours of operation.”

Help has arrived though, as pharmacies increasingly look to technology for relief. Not surprisingly, technology has kept pace with changing pharmacy needs and is ready to fill the void, namely by automating core processes, thereby freeing up valuable staff time for other purposes.

PrimeRx is a good example. The PrimeRx pharmacy management system is the preferred choice of thousands of pharmacies throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Pharmacists give the system high marks for efficiency-adding capabilities that include:

  • Ease-of-Use/Intuitiveness. PrimeRx is extremely user friendly. Pharmacists regularly note that staff members are able to use the system without extensive training. Instead, the system is logical. Prompts and call-down menus are based on pharmacists’ actual decision-making processes, and the system auto-fills many fields, eliminating the need to re-key redundant information. PrimeRx was built for pharmacists and is regularly updated to reflect changing pharmacy needs.
  • Workflow Automation. PrimeRx takes charge of all pharmacy workflows, dramatically reducing the amount of staff time spent on administrative tasks. A few examples include:
    • Prescriptions seamlessly arrive in the pharmacy and are validated and prepared for dispensing.
    • Refills are automatically identified and added to the queue.
    • Patients are notified when a medication is ready for pickup, or if a refill needs to be ordered.
    • Inventory is monitored, with medications automatically replenished when a pre-set quantity is reached.
    • Claims are automatically submitted to the appropriate payer, and tracked until a resolution is received.
  • Direct Integration with Third Party Providers. In addition to its core functionality, PrimeRx allows direct integration with more than 120 “best in class” third party solutions. Pharmacists can rely on these solutions for added efficiencies that include:
    • Real-Time Prescription Benefit by Surescripts. As pharmacists are well aware, helping patients navigate drug coverage issues and manage out-of-pocket costs can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. High copays often result in a patient choosing to go without a medication, while an uncovered medication can mean precious time spent identifying an alternative and obtaining necessary approvals. Now though, a resolution can be identified in a matter of seconds. The Real-Time Prescription Benefit solution provides the pharmacist with patient-specific information about drug coverage and pricing that includes:
      • Real-time access to medications covered by patients’ plan formularies. The pharmacist will know immediately if a prescribed medication is covered, and what a patient’s out-of-pocket costs will be.
      • List of covered alternatives. If a prescribed medication is not included on a patient’s formulary, or if the out-of-pocket costs are excessive, the solution will provide a list of as many as five alternative medications.

      Information that used to require 20-30 minutes to locate is now available in real time. And, since the solution is accessed within PrimeRx, all patient records are automatically updated and managed.

    • Immunization Reporting. PrimeRx provides direct integration with the automated immunization solution by Outcomes (formerly known as Script Management Partners), which allows pharmacies to electronically report immunization records to state/local immunization information systems (IIS). In addition, the system identifies immunization opportunities among pharmacy patients.
    • Robotics. Pharmacies can access several industry-leading robotic solutions that include:
      • ARxIUM — Developer of pharmacy automation and workflow solutions. The company’s products and solutions include carousels for vertical storage, automated dispensing cabinets and packaging solutions.
      • JVM — Manufacturer of automated dispensing solutions including the INTIPharm – CSC, DC, DCH medication distribution cabinet system.
      • Kirby Lester — A global leader in pharmacy automation and high-speed pill/tablet counting solutions.
      • Parata Centralized Filling Solution — Technology-based solutions that streamline the fulfillment operation within a single workflow.
      • Parata (TCGRx) Packaging — Adherence packaging solutions including blister cards, pouch inspection, ATP pouch packaging, and PASS pouch packaging solutions.
      • Parata Will Call — Comprehensive pharmacy automation portfolio that includes dispensing, packaging, and workflow management. Will call solutions include options for in-store wall units, corner carousels and under-counter drawer systems, along with pickup lockers for after-hours customer access.
      • PickPoint – Provider of intelligent pharmacy solutions including a lighted will call system and remote dispensing system.
      • RxSafe 1800™ — Automated drug dispensing and inventory control solution. RxSafe 1800™ serves as a repository for as many as 1,800 native medication containers, which reduces shelving needs, and eliminates manual put away and restocking processes.
      • ScriptPro – Robotic dispensing and pharmacy workflow systems.
      • SynMed/Parata — State-of-the-art pharmacy automation system for preparing single and multi-dose blister packs.

Clearly, technology is changing the way pharmacies operate. Pharmacies can rely on technology to automate processes that used to require significant chunks of manpower, and to ensure that all records are seamlessly stored, and easily accessible.

But technology will never replace the personal connections that exist between pharmacists and their patients. Instead, it can foster those relationships by freeing up valuable time. And with current staffing shortages expected to continue, time will become an even more precious asset.

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