Your independent pharmacy’s workflow goes through a series of starts and stops from the minute the doors open in the morning until the lights go off at night. But constant workflow disruptions might make your pharmacy less efficient than it can be.

In this edition of Pharmacist to Pharmacist, we asked Rita Russell, pharmacist and senior director for relationship management in McKesson’s RelayHealth division, how you can use technology to become more efficient, drive better clinical outcomes for patients and improve business results for your pharmacy.

What are you responsible for in your role at McKesson?

Russell: Along with our team, I help manage relationships with our strategic partners. Our partners are technology vendors that we collaborate with to create solutions for pharmacies. We design technology solutions that help pharmacies be more efficient, deliver better care and improve profitability. These solutions replace manual tasks in the workflow. Sometimes they work in the background to help the pharmacist or pharmacy without requiring extra effort from the staff.

What are some common workflow inefficiencies you see at independent pharmacies?

Russell: Anything that disrupts your normal workflow or is outside your normal workflow can make you less efficient. A good example is how you submit your claims. There could be something missing in your claims transmission that forces you to manually complete a task before you submit a claim electronically. So instead of clicking a few buttons and being done, you’re adding steps. You’re clicking a few buttons, stopping, entering in new information, double-checking your data, and then clicking more buttons. With improved claims editing, you can eliminate manual steps and make your workflow much more efficient.

What do independent pharmacies do outside of their workflows that make them less efficient?

Russell: Pharmacies are struggling to find opportunities to deliver more clinical services to their patients. Many independents don’t incorporate clinical services into their workflows at all, and that can make them less efficient. If your pharmacy is like most, your clinical interventions happen separately from where you fill prescriptions. You don’t know when patients are going to come in to pick up their drugs, and when they do come in, you don’t know if they need a clinical service. So when they come in, you interrupt your workflow to give them their drugs, and you interrupt it again when you realize they need an additional service on the spot. It’s not the most productive way to run your business.

How can independent pharmacies make that process more efficient?

Russell: You can use technology to alert you to a patient who is eligible for a clinical intervention or needs a basic clinical service. You can contact the patient, find out when they’re coming in to pick up their medication, and schedule the intervention for that time if it’s going to take more than a just few minutes. Everything you do should be connected and happen within your workflow so it’s not disjointed or interrupted. It’s a much more efficient way to run your pharmacy.

Is billing for clinical services an efficiency issue for independent pharmacies?

Russell: It can be. You bill drugs to a health plan under the patient’s pharmacy benefit. Your pharmacy management system (PMS) has that claims transaction built in. But when you provide a clinical service to a patient, you typically bill it to a health plan under the patient’s medical benefit. And your PMS may not have that claims transaction built in. If it doesn’t, you are required to step out of your workflow to bill that clinical service separately to the patient’s health plan. That’s not an efficient way of billing. A more efficient process would be to incorporate medical billing into your PMS. The system would automatically know if a claim falls under a patient’s pharmacy or medical benefit and submit it the right way.

Do you have any other efficiency tips for independent pharmacies?

Russell: Inventory management can really improve efficiency. Ordering your drugs manually is time consuming. And it can disrupt your workflow if you suddenly realize that you’re out of something and need to order it right away. A better way to increase efficiency would be to automate your inventory and ordering. When you do that, you’ll have the right drugs in stock when your patients need them. And it’s one less thing that your pharmacist or staff is required to complete that takes them away from direct patient care.

What’s the business case for independent pharmacies to invest in technology to be more efficient?

Russell: The most obvious reason is cost savings. When you become more efficient, it takes you less time and fewer resources to do the same things. That lowers your operating costs. Less obvious are the new revenue opportunities it creates. You’re worried about reimbursement. Technology just doesn’t make your billing more efficient. It makes it more accurate. You can bill for all the covered services that you’re entitled to bill for, and health plans pay you correctly for what you do. And when you free up more time and resources, you can offer your patients additional services that generate even more revenue for your pharmacy. Those services can also attract new patients for your pharmacy who, let’s say, would prefer to get their vaccines at your pharmacy rather than at their doctor’s office.

How comfortable do you think independent pharmacists are with new technologies?

Russell: I think technology is natural for them. You hear a lot of grumbling from doctors about electronic health records (EHRs) and how technology interferes with the doctor-patient relationship. But you don’t hear that from pharmacists. We’ve been using computers to fill prescriptions for a long time now. We’re used to leveraging new technology to help us do our jobs better.

What technology trends should independent pharmacies stay on top of?

Russell: You should stay on top of any new technology that could help your pharmacy. Not every piece of technology is right for every pharmacy. Evaluate technologies that fit your situation. Robotics is a good example. It’s a big investment up front, but in the right situation, robotics makes a whole lot of sense. If your prescription volume is high, it might be more efficient to have a robotic system fill them.

What other trends should independent pharmacies stay on top of?

Russell: You should stay on top of legislation and regulations that can expand the scope of practice for pharmacists. If we’re going to make this transition from pharmacist to provider, we must be able to do more—and bill for more—than just filling prescriptions. Immunizations are a great start, but we can also do things like point-of-care testing and chronic disease management. Pharmacists probably are the most underutilized healthcare provider out there. Yet we represent the most cost-effective way to deliver care and the most convenient location for patients to receive care. It just makes sense for us to do more.

What makes you such a strong advocate for the transition of pharmacists into providers?

Russell: When I was in high school, I worked at the independent pharmacy in our town, which had only one doctor. People really depended on our pharmacist for their care, because they couldn’t always get in to see the doctor. They were comfortable seeing the pharmacist when they needed something. It’s one of the things that attracted me to pharmacy. I think that openness in seeing a pharmacist is something we need more of today.

What’s your most memorable moment as a pharmacist?

Russell: My most memorable moments were when patients came in to my pharmacy and asked me for a recommendation on how to treat some problem that they were having. I would recommend something, and they would actually do it. Then they would come back later and tell me it worked. It made me feel good to know that they trusted me enough to ask, and then trusted me enough to do what I suggested. That’s the sort of relationship all pharmacists should have with their patients in the future.

Editor’s note: If you have a question for one of our pharmacists, please leave a comment and let us know. We’ll be sure to cover it in a future edition of Pharmacist to Pharmacist.

Related: Learn more about McKesson’s reimbursement performance services for independent pharmacies

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McKesson editorial staff is committed to sharing innovative approaches and insights so our customers can get the most out of their business solutions and identify areas for operational improvement and revenue growth.

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