The case for call centers

May 15, 2011

Pharmacists need to leverage any tool that will minimize the demands placed on them and reduce distractions that can lead to medication errors, longer patient waiting time, and other complications. One available tool is the call center.

Key Points

In such circumstances, pharmacists need to leverage any tool that will minimize the demands placed on them and reduce distractions that can lead to medication errors, longer patient waiting time, and other complications. One effective but underused tool is the call center.

How they work

Each call center is staffed by pharmacy technicians certified by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. Where permitted by law, technicians take calls from physician offices and enter basic prescription information such as the patient's name; address; age; the name, strength, and quantity of the drug; and directions for use.

If there is no need for the prescriber to speak with the pharmacist, the prescription can be processed and filled by the pharmacist. If the prescriber needs to speak directly with the pharmacist, the technician must locate the pharmacist, provide relevant background, and transfer the call.

As the first line of response for patient phone inquiries, the technician lets the patient know when there are issues with insurance coverage or a drug is out of stock and provides updates about when the prescription will be ready for pickup. This offers a level of comfort that can help maintain patient loyalty to the pharmacy.

Possible advantages

Potential benefits of a call center include:

Objections to call centers

While call centers have been popular in high-volume operations such as mail-order pharmacies, they have been slower to deploy in much smaller pharmacies such as the corner drugstore.

Developing a call center requires a capital investment and results in a change in the pharmacy's business flow, and many pharmacy owners do not want to allocate their resources in this way or change the way they do business.

Some pharmacy owners are concerned that they won't be able to find the right technicians. They would need employees capable of a high level of responsibility, who could accurately record information received from physicians' offices, maintain cordial and professional relationships with prescribers and patients, and form accurate judgments about when to involve the pharmacist in patient matters.

Another concern held by community pharmacies is that because a call center is isolated from the bench, pharmacists will lose oversight of technicians' work and will not be able to supervise their activities or interactions with customers.

Conclusion

The reservations about call centers must be weighed against the evolving demands of contemporary pharmacy practice, which encompasses such tasks as medication therapy management, collaborative drug therapy management, and ongoing responsibility in many states to commit significant resources to continuous quality improvement programs.

When designed and measured regularly by a metrics-based performance management tool, call centers can synergize professional service, patient safety, and quality improvement, while streamlining business operations and improving customer service. Clinical outcomes - the overriding focus of healthcare and pharmacy practice today - can be strengthened through the presence of call centers.

Ernest P. Gates is the president of Gates Healthcare Associates ( http://www.gatesconsult.com/), a pharmaceutical and healthcare consulting firm that provides clinical, programmatic, and regulatory information to organizations nationally and abroad.