Hear ye, hear ye, IVR systems are on a roll

July 14, 2008

More and more pharmacies are using interactive voice response systems to improve patients' drug compliance.

Interactive voice response (IVR) systems are the second most popular piece of technology-following pharmacy management systems-used in pharmacies today, according to a recent survey conducted by Computer Talk for the Pharmacist. More than 80% of pharmacy chains now use IVRs and most prefer to own the equipment rather than leasing it or outsourcing the service, according to survey results.

IVR, which typically refers to a telephone system capable of providing options to customers and then routing them to their desired destination, is most commonly used in pharmacies to facilitate automated refills.

Howard Shulman, R.Ph., of Keansburg (N.J.) Pharmacy, who has installed a TeleManager IVR workstation, said, "The IVR answers the phone 24/7 and allows patients and doctors to leave orders for refills and new prescriptions. This frees up time to spend with patients. IVR is great for compliance."

Gary Angelo, R.Ph., owner of Silverton Pharmacy in Toms River, N.J., said he did not want to look and sound like a chain, and by using IVR technology, he was able to avoid that very perception. "We were able to customize our options so that it was easy for my patients and doctors," he said.

Industry watchers believe the IVR pharmacy market will expand as pharmacists continue to tap into this technology to improve productivity and free up staff time for more patient counseling.

"More than half of the calls that come into a pharmacy can be eliminated with an IVR system," explained Michael Coughlin, president and CEO of ScriptPro, a Shawnee Mission, Kansas-based IT vendor specializing in pharmacy robotic and management systems. "A very large percentage of patient calls that come into the pharmacy are routine refill requests or questions about directions." These types of calls can be handled easily by an IVR, thereby not interrupting the pharmacy from other tasks, such as patient counseling.

"Our approach to IVR systems is to integrate the way these systems work very tightly into the robotics and workflow of the pharmacy so that all systems are integrated and working together in a very smooth and seamless manner," continued Coughlin.

IVR systems are highly sophisticated today. Most can check for drug interactions and process insurance and some can even contact physicians to request refills.

Spartanburg, S.C.-based QS/1, a pharmacy IT vendor, recently added a call-back feature to its IVR solution to help pharmacies ensure that patients know when they need a prescription refilled and when it is ready to be picked up. Calls can be automatically added in the queue and scheduled. During the Refill Reminder Call, the customer is given the option to place a request. When combined with QS/1's NRx Pharmacy Management System, refills can be processed automatically. Labels can be printed and if the pharmacy has an automated dispensing device, prescriptions can be sent ahead and counted. The Customer Call for Pickup feature notifies patients that a prescription is ready, based on a schedule defined within the NRx system.

TeleManager Technologies, Inc., Newark, N.J., early this year, released several new IVR products. Paul Kobylevsky, chief operating officer at TeleManager, is confident that these new products will help move IVR from being mostly a productivity tool and actually help pharmacies provide services that will increase their sales and margins.

THE AUTHOR is a writer in the Atlanta area.