Touch Screens Double Pharmacy Productivity

An automated prescription-filling system incorporates touch screens, bar codes, and imaging to benefit a 115-store chain.

Gone are the days of independent drugstores where the pharmacist filled prescriptions by hand (and maybe doubled as a "soda jerk" as well). Many of the independents have been pushed out by the large chain stores, such as Rite Aid, CVS, Eckerd Drugs, and even grocery stores offering the same service. Today, filling prescriptions is high-tech, complete with automatic pill dispensing and counting machines, and even robots. McKessonAPS (Automated Prescription Systems, Inc.) provides chain drugstores with hardware and software to streamline the prescription-filling process. Based in Pineville, LA, McKessonAPS is a business unit of McKessonHBOC, Inc. (San Francisco). The company manufactures pharmaceutical dispensing products ranging from tabletop counters to advanced robotic counting systems.

McKessonAPS recently helped an East Coast-based drug store chain automate its 115 pharmacies using the McKessonAPS Pharmacy2000 system. "We'd previously installed our prescription counting devices (McKessonAPS Baker Cell and Baker software) for this customer," says Garry Brown, software product manager at McKessonAPS. "The chain wanted to add an automated system to fill prescriptions." Brown says that further automating the pharmacy would help the drugstore chain remain competitive. "The system that was in place resembled an assembly line," explains Brown. "It was structured, but slow. The number of prescriptions coming in chain-wide was increasing, and it was difficult to keep up with the volume."

In the assembly line method, the pharmacist read every paper prescription that came in, verifying the name, address, and prescription information. The pharmacist, or a pharmacy technician, filled each prescription and filed paper prescriptions by patient name. "Imagine the paperwork generated by one person coming into the pharmacy with 12 prescriptions," notes Brown. There was no verification system in place, and the system didn't leave time for the pharmacist to talk to customers about their prescriptions. "The chain wanted its customers to feel they were being taken care of, and that meant more interaction with pharmacists," adds Brown.

Split Screen Doubles Number Of Prescriptions Filled
McKessonAPS' solution was the Pharmacy2000 system. The Pharmacy2000 system includes the Mitsubishi flat panel display with touch screen, Compaq computer, Epson image scanner, and PSC bar code scanner. Other components include a Cognitive Solutions bar code printer, Lexmark desktop printer, and proprietary Pharmacy2000 software. "The flat panel touch screen monitor takes up less counter space than a full-sized monitor," notes Brown. "Pharmacies want the smaller footprint the flat panel display offers, compared to a full-sized CRT monitor. More importantly, the flat panel monitor displays two screens side by side, enabling two technicians to simultaneously input information for separate prescriptions." The Pharmacy2000 software is designed for use with a touch screen. Installation of the system takes approximately two days, including training.

Simplifying The Prescription-Filling Process
The Pharmacy2000 system assigns a bar code to each new prescription. The bar code label is printed, and a clerk affixes it to the back of the paper prescription. Another label is printed and applied to the prescription container. The clerk scans the paper prescription, which is stored as an image on a server. The scanned image is also transmitted to the filling station PC and displayed on screen. At the filling station, prescription medication, such as pain reliever tablets, are automatically dispensed, counted, and placed in the prescription bottle using the Baker Cell technology and Baker software.

Once a prescription is filled, the system alerts the pharmacist at the checking station with an on-screen prompt. The pharmacist retrieves the filled order and scans the prescription identification number. The image of the original written prescription appears on screen and is compared to the filled prescription. Drug interaction precautions are printed separately by the Lexmark printer while the prescription is filled. Filled prescriptions are placed in a will-call bin and/or the customer's name is called out for order pickup. "The Pharmacy2000 system frees up the pharmacists' time so they can speak with customers about their prescriptions," says Brown. "The pharmacists can counsel customers about drug interactions, dosage amounts, and possible side effects."

Lisa Kerner