Faced with a challenging reimbursement and regulatory environment, retail and outpatient pharmacies can benefit from technology, including pharmacy workflow systems, automation and software, to drive improvements in their business. Implementing technology can not only help pharmacies deliver better care to their patients, it can also drive improvements in their clinical, operational, financial and regulatory compliance performance.

Better Health for Customers, Better Business Health for Pharmacies

The menu of technology available to retail and outpatient pharmacies ranges from the most simple to the most sophisticated pharmacy management systems, automated central fill and dispensing solutions, business services and point-of-sale systems. By using any or all of these technologies, pharmacies can reduce the time their pharmacists and other staff members spend manually performing such tasks as checking customers' insurance status and financial responsibility, or counting pills and putting them in bottles.

Reaping the Benefits of Pharmacy TechnologyPharmacies, in turn, can direct their pharmacists and other staff members to spend their new-found time on clinical activities that improve the health and outcomes of their patients. Those activities could include medication reconciliation, comprehensive medication reviews, medication synchronization, medication therapy management, behavioral coaching, adherence programs, smoking cessation programs, flu and other vaccine services and general population health management.

From a financial perspective, the shift in how pharmacists and staff spend their time can improve the business health of the pharmacy. Many of the clinical activities are reimbursable services that will generate additional revenue for the pharmacy. New-found staff time also can be spent on non-clinical activities that can generate additional revenue such as front-end merchandising and marketing.

Technology can assist outpatient and retail pharmacies with another major time demand, regulatory compliance, the biggest of which is the 340B drug discount program. Technology can help hospital-based outpatient pharmacies and contract retail pharmacies with a number of 340B-related tasks such as identifying eligible patients, drug procurement and pricing, and drug and prescriber tracking and documentation. It also can assist pharmacies with non-340B compliance challenges such as tracking and disposal of controlled substances.

Overcoming Common Pharmacy Technology Adoption Barriers

With all the clinical, operational, financial and regulatory compliance benefits that can accrue to retail and outpatient pharmacies that adopt all these wonderful technologies, the question is why haven't more made the leap? In working with pharmacies across the country, the barriers fall into three common buckets: cost, training and time.

Like any other business in any other industry, pharmacies face start-up and ongoing costs associated with new technology. It's an investment they must be willing to make in order to enjoy returns measured by clinical, operational, financial and regulatory compliance gains. Pharmacies that don't want to jump right in can take smaller transition steps and phase-in new technologies over time to reduce their upfront costs.

The second barrier – training – has two components: the reluctance to change their current processes and the cost of retraining. If technology is replacing certain hands-on functions, then a pharmacy's staff must be retrained to use the technology and to perform new clinical and financial functions with the time saved by the technology. And not everyone may be happy with the shift in responsibilities.

This is where outside experience and expertise can help. Pharmacies can look to their peers for guidance on how to best handle the change management, and they can hire consultants to orchestrate the training programs. In both cases, it's important to show the pharmacy's staff a comprehensive before-and-after picture of their workflows and daily operations to illustrate how their lives will change and how much more effective they will be in their jobs with the change.

Pharmacy owners, directors and managers have trouble finding the time to learn about all the new technologies out there, which ones are available in their market and which ones are going to be right for their respective operations. One size doesn't fit all when it comes to pharmacy technology. If they can't commit to the time, they can hire an outside consultant to assess their operations and recommend the technology path that aligns with their business objectives and financial resources. An outside consultant can also partner with pharmacies during the implementation process to help with change management and the overall installation process.

Pharmacies must overcome those barriers to thrive in today's health care environment. They must free up time to focus on activities that improve clinical, operational, financial and regulatory compliance results. Without technology, they're just not going to get there on their own.

Related: Learn about McKesson's Pharmacy Technology and Services.

Emilie Ray

About the author

Emilie Ray is president of McKesson's Pharmacy Technology and Services. She has more than 15 years of experience in the healthcare technology industry, having worked in both the hospital and retail pharmacy segments. She has held a variety of progressive leadership roles within McKesson's Pharmacy Automation and Systems business, including software development, product management and marketing, which has deepened her understanding of operations, customers' needs and the industry overall.