Considerations During Pharmacy Automation

At some time there is a realization by management that there are negative points in the operation of a pharmacy that require significant attention in order for the total operation of the pharmacy to improve to an optimum level. The management of the pharmacy must decide what area of the operation of the business needs the most attention in order to achieve improvement in overall operations. There is also a realization that pharmacy automation is likely the best way to improve operations, so that the work environment is improved, mistakes in filling are reduced, and overall cost of operations are reduced. Management will need to look at the detail of all parts of the operation and decide what negative issues in the operation are having the greatest impact on the bottom line.

Are your employees able to keep up with the work load in peak times?

Is the pharmacy incurring overtime charges as a result of peak time prescriptions?

Are there significant prescription filling errors?

Are employees over stressed by the work loads of peak times?

Is there employee turn-over based on the stress of tasks performed?

These are some of the questions that management must answer in order to decide where the greatest need for improvement exists. Once scrutiny has been accomplished, it is necessary for management to rank the needs from "Most Needy" to "Least Needed". All of the listed needs can be quantified by assigning a dollar figure to each one. If the pharmacy incurs overtime to fill prescriptions, then it is necessary to calculate the monthly and annual estimated cost of that. If management feels that waiting times for customers to get prescriptions is a negative, then an estimate needs to be made for the amount of lost business that may have caused. The main point here is for the management to decide what areas need improvement most for the good of the business by using pharmacy automation. Quantifying these areas that need improvement can help in deciding where to put the most resources to get the greatest improvement.
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An important change to operations like the addition of pharmacy automation must have the understanding and support of current employees. It would be in the best interest of the continuation of the business to have the input of current employees throughout this process. Having pharmacists, technicians, and other employees give their input during the pharmacy automation can strengthen their support of the changes as these changes occur. During this process of evaluating what the negatives might be in operating the pharmacy, it is important to also look at what tasks could be added to daily operations if there were time available to do them. Obvious tasks include the time for a pharmacist to answer in-depth questions from customers or explain drug interactions. Other less obvious tasks might be more involvement with customers about over-the-counter drugs. There may be tasks that have been required for the pharmacist to do after the normal work day, that could be done during regular hours. The value of each of these tasks should be quantified in some way, so that their value can be added with the values of the possible improvements. This should help to quantify what the overall improvement of the pharmacy operation will be if automation is added to operations.

There will need to be a quantification of the cost of the pharmacy automation and its associated components. These will include the cost of pharmacy automation equipment, but it may also include employee training, rearrangement of pharmacy shelving and equipment to allow floor space for changes, and the installation of the automation equipment. There will be a disruption of normal operations while the equipment is being installed. Management will need to do some advance planning to cut down on the impact this might have on daily prescription filling.

Locations for all the prescription drugs will have to be determined. As prescriptions are filled there will need to be a storage area to keep the filled prescriptions. This will need to be adequate enough space to contain all the prescriptions that would be generated during the heaviest peak filling time. It is important to make sure that there is a proper place for the pharmacist to review each prescription after it has been filled by automation, but before it goes to the storage area or is given to the customer.

A very important part of the automation process that must occur before the selection of the proper solution is the establishment of a relationship with an automation company. It is particularly important to review the capabilities of several companies that have done automation work for other pharmacies. Management should visit other locations where pharmacy automation installation have been done, so that an unbiased opinion of effectiveness of the installation can be gained. Management should prepare a list of questions about the installation that relate to the needs of their own pharmacy operation. The engineering staff of the automation provider should be able to recommend to the company what the best automation solution would be, considering the company needs. Management will need to be able to depend on technical recommendations from the provider. Management should also make a visit to the manufacturing facility where the automation equipment is manufactured to gain as much insight about equipment support and the quality of the equipment that might be purchased.

About the author

John Mitchell, the author of this article, is President of Provision, Inc, an online publisher of information about the uses of automation in business. The company website,, allows pharmacies to evaluate pharmacy automation to make pharmacies more efficient.

Requests for quotations can be submitted to automation specialists at

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