New technology changing R.Ph.s, not just workplace

March 19, 2007

Advances in retail pharmacy technology herald a permanent change in the professional focus of community pharmacists. "The division of the role of the community pharmacist into a patient-centered profession and a technical field does represent the future," said Betsy Sleath, Ph.D., R.Ph., associate professor of pharmaceutical outcomes and policy, University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy. "This is driven largely by emerging technologies, which are giving pharmacists even more of an opportunity to do what many of them went to school for-direct patient care."

In a study of the profession as it entered the new millennium, Sleath and her colleagues examined changes in how pharmacists work. They found technology is freeing R.Ph.s to spend more time with patients and to turn more of the dispensing aspect of their work over to technicians. Work flow automation and electronic prescribing promise improved efficiency and patient safety, as well as a profound change in how pharmacists spend their day.

That promise has been fulfilled for Dominick Vizzoni, Pharm.D., co-owner of Siegel's Pharmacy in Trenton, N.J. His family has owned the pharmacy for more than 30 years. They recently installed AutoMed Efficiency WorkPath work flow management software and FastFill 200 automation, made by AmerisourceBergen, an automated dispensing systems manufacturer in Vernon Hills, Ill.

"There are more and more scripts having to be filled by the same number of people, so there's a huge drive to automation right now, especially because it is showing it can pay for itself quickly through improved efficiency," said Tammy Devine, senior VP of QS/1, a pharmacy automation product manufacturer in Spartanburg, S.C. "In fact, the range of products available to retail pharmacists is so broad and all-inclusive that how they wish to structure their work time can be largely up to them."

Work flow products

QS/1 and other companies sell what they call "front to back of the store" software and hardware that company officials believe are the future of retail pharmacy. Just one example of the efficiency inherent in the integration of work flow products is what is happening with interactive voice response (IVR) systems. Sophisticated products are emerging that transmit refill requests to computers that, after a review by the R.Ph., order dispensing machines to fill bottles and print labels. "These are the kinds of products our customers are demanding," said Devine. "Without any doubt, improved work flow products represent the future of the industry."

According to trade association officials and manufacturers, changes in retail pharmacy technology reflect: