Pharmacies are navigating a transformative period. The idea — and implementation — of pharmacy automation is becoming commonplace, as services such as automated pill counting become increasingly important for pharmacies to evolve, become more efficient and address new, emerging demands. As pharmacies shape a more strategic future through pharmacy automation, they need technology that'll evolve with their needs — needs they may not even be aware of currently.
Pharmacies’ day-to-day operations are rapidly shifting from in-house fills to centralized filling equipped with cutting-edge automation. Pill-counting technology is a key component of successful, seamless pharmacy automation that can help improve overall pharmacy efficiency and prescription accuracy, making it possible for pharmacists to focus and spend more time on patient care.
Pharmacy automation tools have indeed come a long way since their inception in the 1960s. In the past, automation tools were "nice to have" solutions, but hardly necessary. Then the COVID-19 pandemic showed pharmacies of every size — not just the larger ones — that they needed to update their automation tools. Suddenly, the adoption of solutions exploded, albeit at different paces for different pharmacy sizes.
Today’s pill-counting technology, in particular, can impact your pharmacy’s operational efficiency. Below, I highlight key features you should consider to support your pharmacy’s growth.
Editor's note: A version of this article originally appeared Dec. 5, 2022 on Chain Drug Review.
Get automation right with self-monitoring checks and balances
Accuracy is one of the most critical considerations for pharmacies when adopting a pharmacy automation system. Patient well-being is on the line — as is reputation and pharmacists’ licenses. Patients should trust that what they’re picking up from their pharmacist is correct. That’s why it’s critical pharmacy automation is done right.
Look for solutions that include several checks layered throughout the system so the technology can immediately detect inaccuracies, taking a no-compromise approach to pill counting. Ideal solutions should self-monitor and flag errors as they happen. They should also have the ability to be immediately taken offline for maintenance procedures to ensure safety while maintaining throughput efficiency. In this scenario, the dispensing process halts until the issue’s fixed and the system tracks a certain number of successful counts. Systems should also use additional technology such as vision, imaging and weight scales to ensure accuracy.
Meet the high stakes of pill-counting with efficiency and accuracy
The prescription filling process — which also includes labeling, bottling and capping — is an important but monotonous task. It’s also a task prone to human error when not automated. There’s no margin for error in healthcare, as patients depend on accurate medication to improve — or, in some cases, sustain — their lives. It’s important to invest in a solution that’s free of second guesses for patients, providers and pharmacists.
Therefore, it’s critical to achieve efficiency without compromising accuracy. Imagine being able to fill a 90-count prescription in 15 to 45 seconds. Some machines even come equipped with count-ahead technology, resulting in an even faster filling rate. Through a parallel process, the machine can work ahead in the background while bottles are filled in real time. That way, by the time a bottle’s filled, another dispense is keyed and waiting.
Empower pharmacists to make a real human impact through the power of automation
Automation not only increases a pharmacy’s accuracy and safety measures but also frees up pharmacists for more patient interaction.
When filling functions are automated, pharmacists are freed to operate at their highest level — having one-on-one conversations with patients and closely following a patient’s medication journey. This is a critical aspect in the evolution of the pharmacist-patient relationship as pharmacists take a more primary role in a patient’s care journey.
Automation helps create an optimal balance in how pharmacists are utilized at every point of the patient journey by enabling them to exercise their expertise on two planes. Across the counter, pharmacists have more time to spend face-to-face with patients. Secondly, when pharmacists can trust the prescription-filling process is accurate, their work becomes more efficient. They don't have to spend time searching for confirmation or accurate details. Meanwhile, pharmacists at central fill pharmacies shepherd this industry-enhancing technology by helping to ensure prescription safety and accuracy.
Safety, accuracy and efficiency in pill-counting capabilities can help the pharmacy space reach new standards of healthcare and patient expectations.
6 key features to consider in your pill-counting technology
Several different pill-counting technologies exist on the market, but developments in this space have key performance-boosting and safety features. You should look for the following features when considering a pill-counting solution.
Feature No. 1: A centralized approach
Processes should be easily streamlined to experience the ease of consistent technology across the entire solution.
Feature No. 2: Continued enhancement
Optimizes the fulfillment process from the moment a prescription enters the pharmacy to the moment it’s picked up by the patient. Using metrics, data and feedback, the technology should constantly adapt and self-optimize.
Feature No. 3: Accuracy and speed
Patients expect to receive their prescriptions in a timely manner. Accuracy can’t be sacrificed for speed.
Feature No. 4: No cross-contamination
Some technologies allow different medications to share the same tubes, funnels or chutes. Look for solutions without cross-contamination to ensure safety and accuracy in the pill-dispensing process.
Feature No. 5: Built-in protections
While the self-monitoring system flags errors, other safety measures should be built in before the system can continue. For example, if flagged for maintenance, the system should complete 10 successful counts before counting and dispensing can continue.
Feature No. 6: Accuracy checks
The amount of medication a patient’s prescribed can be just as important as the type. Look for solutions that ensure every pill’s counted twice. The system should also be able to detect pill fragments and automatically reroute undercounts for remediation without manual intervention.
Leading the next evolution of pharmacy automation
Safety, accuracy and efficiency in pill-counting capabilities can help the pharmacy space reach new standards of healthcare and patient expectations. Pill-counting technology will continue to be the marker of a successful integration of pharmacy automation.
As the prevailing leader in pharmacy automation, CoverMyMeds pairs expertise with McKesson’s more than 25 years of experience to better inform investments in innovative pill-counting technology.
Find out today how pharmacy automation software could make the difference for your pharmacy.