Industry trends are stretching your health system pharmacy in a lot of different directions. Central fill automation may be a way of pulling it all together to create more value for those you serve, most notably your patients.

I talk to health system pharmacists around the country, so I have a good idea of what’s on your mind:

  • With an aging population with more chronic illnesses, your health system expects you to handle the jump in the outpatient drug volume that comes with it.
  • As outpatient drug costs rise, your health system expects you to be a supply chain expert and control your drug spend.
  • Patients are becoming more assertive consumers with a choice of outpatient pharmacies, and your health system expects your pharmacy to compete for that business.
  • Value-based payments are putting revenue at risk, so your health system needs you to find new revenue opportunities and spend more time with your patients to keep them well.

Central fill automation can help you meet and exceed all those expectations from your health system. Let me explain how central fill automation works and how it benefits your pharmacy. I’ll also walk you through what to look for in a central fill partner.

How central fill automation works

Of all these expectations, the one that won’t go away is filling and dispensing drugs to patients. After all, that’s the core service you provide. But if you spend most of your time doing that, you won’t have much time left to meet the other three expectations from your health system. So what you should do is move that task somewhere else. And that’s central fill.

If you’re like most health system pharmacies, you manually fill and dispense drugs at multiple sites. Central fill automation means you fill your scripts at one site using technology. Here’s how central fill works. The facility:

  • Receives your prescription orders
  • Procures the drugs from manufacturers and distributors
  • Fills, labels and verifies your prescriptions
  • Delivers them to your sites or directly to your patients on your behalf

You can set up a traditional owned central fill facility. Or, you can license central fill services and pay a per dispense fee.

Improving your operational efficiency

Moving to an automated central fill model, whether you own or lease, creates a number of operational benefits for your health system pharmacy. The operational benefits to your pharmacy include:

  • Just-in-time inventory. You can store drugs at your central fill site, and fill and dispense them when your patients need them. You won’t have unused stock sitting on your shelves.
  • Faster fills. Pharmacy automation can fill more prescriptions at a faster rate than your staff can do manually.
  • Accurate prescription fills. Technology can fill prescriptions with a 99.9 percent accuracy rate, meaning you’re giving the right drug to the right patient in the right quantity and dose.
  • More dispensing options. Your central fill facility can deliver your drugs to your sites or directly to patients through a mail-order service.
  • Ability to scale. By automating fills, you have an infrastructure that can adjust or scale quickly with changes in prescription volume and new types of drugs.

Less cost, more revenue

Those operational benefits generate a number of business benefits for your health system pharmacy, too. These business benefits include:

  • Lower carrying costs. You’ll save money by having your drug orders shipped to a single location rather than to multiple sites.
  • Reduce inventory costs. By centralizing your drug inventory at your central fill facility, you’ll reduce waste by reducing overstocks and expirations.
  • Lower cost to fill. Your per-prescription fill cost will drop as technology automates that manual task and can handle more volume without more labor.
  • More revenue opportunities. By automating fills at one location, you can redeploy the staff at your sites to other services for your patients.

Growing your patient care potential

The biggest benefit to your health system pharmacy from central fill automation is how it can help you give better care to your patients. For example, central fill automation can:

  • Reduce errors. Filling scripts manually at multiple sites raises the odds of human error. Automated fills at one location lowers that chance.
  • Improve adherence. Automation lets you use adherence packaging. That means you package medication in a way that makes it more likely that patients will take all their drugs the right way. That could be anything from senior-accessible bottles to pill pouches and blister cards.
  • Enable clinical services. Your staff can now spend time on direct patient care by adding or expanding clinical programs. These are the kind of value-added services that can give your outpatient sites an edge in the market and keep your patients as healthy as possible.

Selecting the right automation system

If your health system pharmacy decides that central fill automation is right for you, you have lots of choices for automation systems and partners. Here’s a list of things you should look for in a system and in a partner.

  • Ability to scale as your health system pharmacy changes and grows
  • Ability to handle new drug formats and compositions
  • Convenient options like home delivery
  • Different adherence packaging options
  • Demonstrated industry experience and expertise
  • Financial stability that ensures your partner will be there
  • Financing options that give you a choice of owning or leasing
  • Geographic location to support home delivery
  • Strong support services to reduce service disruptions

Central fill automation is an investment. There’s no doubt that your health system will ask you to justify it. These are the KPIs I recommend you track to prove that you made the right move:

  • Inventory days on hand
  • Drug carrying costs
  • Central fill volume
  • Dispensing error rate
  • Labor redeployment

If all of these numbers point in the right direction, you’ll be helping your health system fulfill its mission of reducing costs, generating revenue and, most importantly, providing better care to patients.

Related: Learn more about McKesson’s pharmacy automation solutions for health system pharmacies

Melanie Christie

About the author

Melanie Christie is vice president of product management and engineering for McKesson High Volume Solutions. In her current role, Melanie is responsible for product strategy, engineering, analytics and strategic partnerships for all products within McKesson High Volume Solutions. Melanie has been with McKesson for more than 14 years, focusing on pharmacy and healthcare technology product development and strategy. She earned her BS in Computer Science and Communications from Allegheny College and her Masters of Business Administration from Waynesburg University.

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