Expert gives design tips for efficient workflow

New OSHA regs on ergonomics require employers to reduce the hazard of repetitive injury motions



Expert gives clues on how to design efficient pharmacy

New ergonomic standards set to take effect in October will require employers to reduce the risk of repetitive motion injuries for employees. These standards, issued by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, will affect how your pharmacy operates, warned Dana Welin, who is v.p. of pharmacy development at Advanced Pharmacy Concepts, a division of Darling Store Fixtures, Memphis. She was speaking at a technology seminar sponsored by and held recently at the Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences in New York.

Under the new rules, employers must inform employees about how to report work-related musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. Employees with these injuries must receive medical attention and paid time off. Employers must also take steps to remedy the hazard that caused the problem.

According to Welin, ergonomic principles are applied to reduce employee injuries, absenteeism, turnover, and workers' compensation costs. A well-designed pharmacy can produce greater productivity, satisfied patients, and a better bottom line. Given that prescription volume is growing precipitously while the supply of pharmacists isn't keeping up with demand, employers have an added reason to provide a good work environment for their staff.

Welin observed that when the number of prescriptions increases, many employers' first line of defense is to "add more bodies." In fact, installing technology and automation and making work flow changes might be "all that's needed," she said. But don't add automation, technology, and technicians to an inefficient work flow, she cautioned. That will only magnify the inefficiencies. Fix your work flow first, she advised; then automate it. And to fix your work flow, you should break it down into functions and steps.


Today there are many products available to improve the efficiency of your staff, Welin told the audience. These tools can be customized to fit a 6-ft.-4-in. pharmacist or a petite 5-footer. For instance, there are articulating computer monitors and keyboard stands that can tilt, swivel, and provide adjustable height. There are also pop-up vial bins that keep vials at hand's length, so you don't have to bend over to reach them.

Another useful tool is high-density shelving that allows more products to be stored in the same amount of space. Since the process of filling Rxs often involves retrieving drugs from, or returning them to, shelves, high-density shelving can reduce steps. Walgreens is one chain that's deploying this form of shelving, Welin said. She added that Walgreens is also placing its top 200 products close to its filling stations to improve work flow.

Pharmacies shouldn't be built with layouts from 10 years ago, Welin stressed. One example is the bowling alley design, where you almost need rollerblades to get from one end of the pharmacy to the other. Form should follow function. Decide what you want, then design it. New trends in design involve adding a drive-through, waiting area, and patient care room where counseling can take place.

Other factors to consider when designing a pharmacy are the ambient conditions of lighting, color, and noise, declared the design expert, who is also a pharmacist. Studies have found that proper illumination, needed more acutely by older R.Ph.s than their younger counterparts, reduces drug errors. Another good feature to have is parabolic, or glare-free, modular lighting, which is easier on the eyes. In terms of color, while white is clean, it eliminates contrast. To reduce eye strain, use a color other than white for the pharmacy work counter, she recommended. To dampen noise levels, you can use carpeting, acoustical ceiling tiles, and wall coverings, she suggested.

Since women will make up a majority of the R.Ph. workforce in the future, chains that come up with a benefits package tailored to women's needs will be able to attract the best and the brightest, Welin noted. For instance, "you can keep pregnant pharmacists working longer by installing workstations with articulating keyboards to adjust to their changing body size," she said. Readjust the pharmacy to make it easy for female staffers to return to work after the birth of their child, she added.

Until now, many employers have resisted making workstation changes citing cost as a barrier. But Welin said that applying ergonomic principles will not only lower companies' insurance costs, it will also mean more staff loyalty, fewer errors, and less employee burnout. For decision-makers, it's time to act, she emphasized.

Judy Chi


Judy Chi. Expert gives design tips for efficient workflow.

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