For many businesses the past year has offered opportunities to reflect on how technology can enable efficiency and growth. For pharmacists, who have been key players in helping patients, caregivers and communities through the pandemic, that reflection includes how to increase access to care, quality outcomes and patient experience.
With 70 percent of Canada’s pharmacists working in the community, their role as healthcare providers is pivotal. From administering vaccines to managing complex drug regimens, pharmacists are among Canada’s most accessible healthcare professionals. In addition to dispensing more than 750-million prescriptions each year, pharmacists also provide advice and counselling, prescription renewals, prescribing for minor ailments, and chronic disease management support. They also supply their communities with COVID-19 vaccinations and other important products, delivering $4.7-billion in value and improving access to care while reducing pressure on other parts of the healthcare system.
Like other professionals, pharmacists need to look to the future and ask some critical questions, such as:
- Are we ready for the new digital expectations and buying behaviors of patients, caregivers and consumers?
- Can we seamlessly integrate with the rest of the healthcare community?
- How can we reduce costs and streamline our business?
- What tools can help us spend more time with patients and their families?
- Where should we focus to maximize efficiency and productivity?
This article looks at what we can expect for the pharmacy of the future, including staying connected, delivering a great patient experience and building a solid business case for technology investments.
Many pharmacists were quick to adopt new technologies during the pandemic to stay connected, expand their role and grow their business. Patient and caregiver connection is a key part of improving access to quality healthcare, and it can help drive ongoing interactions between pharmacists, patients, families and the broader community. If you are trying to build touchpoints with patients, look for a service that lets you connect by text or email.
More than 90 percent of Canadians trust pharmacists to offer advice on medicines, common ailments, healthy lifestyles and vaccinations. This is a particularly critical role during the pandemic, and many pharmacists struggle to keep up with demand. “I don’t see us going back to on-demand services,” says Rita Winn, director at Lovell Drugs Limited and owner and president of Winn Rx. “We’re the most accessible healthcare providers, but accessible doesn’t mean instant anymore. It makes sense to better manage that in-person care experience going forward.”
Experiences are key
One big lesson from the pandemic was the growing digitization of all parts of the healthcare circle, including physicians, labs, allied health care professionals and pharmacists. This digitization offers multiple touchpoints to better manage the patient and caregiver experience. For instance, our Pharmacy Solutions team has been busy helping pharmacists integrate online appointment booking into their Kroll systems, to help manage patient flow and comply with distancing requirements.
Kroll Online appointment booking lets you enhance your patient experience by offering the convenience of booking and managing appointments online, while reducing incoming call volumes and administrative tasks.
By choosing an appointment service that integrates into the central calendar in your pharmacy management system, you can consolidate in-person, phone and email appointment requests and configure multiple work queues. “We really like how simple it is for our patients, plus the integration with our Kroll system lets us manage specialized queues, such as for vaccinations or methadone patients,” Winn explains.
Appointment systems that allow for online booking and offer text and email reminders are a great way to stay in touch with your patients and their caregivers and to help reduce both no-shows and the staff time required to book appointments and follow up with patients. They also improve patient flow and inventory management by creating a clear picture of coming demand in the store.
Virtual Consultation lets you consult with your patients remotely through video, audio and chat - right from your Kroll system.
Of course, appointment booking works for virtual consultations too. Many pharmacists are now connecting with patients via video, audio or live chat to discuss medications and general health, in an encrypted, private platform. Patients and caregivers particularly appreciate the discreet face-to-face conversations, and pharmacists like the flexibility of scheduling around busy times and supporting safe distancing protocols. In fact, the pandemic has increased the use of technology to deliver care virtually, with some providers seeing increased use of more than 750 percent versus pre-pandemic times.
The pandemic also drove massive growth in e-commerce, with consumers looking for new ways to connect with brands and service providers. Look for integrated applications, such as TELUS PharmaConnect that let patients and caregivers order medications and refills remotely. Many of these applications also support medication compliance by sending reminders and information to patients via text, email or in-app notifications.
PharmaConnect™ is the only Kroll-integrated mobile prescription refill service that lets your patients consult their medication file and order refills at their convenience.
By offering a seamless blend of bricks and mortar and virtual experiences, you can stand out from competitors and offer caregivers and patients a flexible way to access healthcare services. Using virtual care, online appointment booking and tools to integrate with other care providers, the modern pharmacy is an important part of every community’s pandemic response, recovery and ongoing healthcare services.
Increasing efficiencies or building productivity?
All businesses look for ways to increase efficiency and manage costs, but one expert recommends looking instead at productivity. Speaking at PharmacyU in March of 2021, Max Beairsto of EVCOR defines the difference this way: “Efficiency is filling the same number of prescriptions at a lower cost; productivity is filling more prescriptions at the same cost.”
Beairsto recommends an approach called appointment-based management (ABM) to build productivity in the lab. Three-quarters of pharmacists look to improved workflow to free up time for professional services. Using the integrated appointment calendar as a way to organize work keeps the team busy and productive but not rushed. This means more time with patients and caregivers so you can help improve safety, medication compliance and outcomes.
By improving productivity and making sure the right team members are focusing on the right tasks, pharmacy management systems with integrated calendars, can help deliver a great patient experience from drop off to pick up.
Employees’ experience is also crucial in planning how you modernize your pharmacy. Look for applications that are easy to learn, easy to use and intuitive. Many modern systems include configurable views that let technicians and pharmacists see all touch points in the Rx process and quickly access drug and patient records. You can also set up your system to prompt employees to take specific actions at different points in the process, for example to offer an additional service at drop off, such as a medication assessment.
Eliminating manual processes and rework is key for managing costs and reducing risk. Look for a system that can support patient, prescriber and payer integration. Look for ways to eliminate fax machines and other risky paper-based processes and use a digital signature tool to support compliance. Modern pharmacies will focus on integrating as much functionality as possible, including patient- and caregiver-facing systems for appointment booking, remote orders, reminders, and virtual consultations.
Fostering connections in healthcare.
Modernizing your pharmacy and retail operations can feel overwhelming and complex. Winn recommends taking a step back and assessing the problems you want to solve in your business. “Look for as much integration as possible,” she counsels. “The more that can happen inside your software the better you can deal with information overload. For example, we really like PrescribeIT because it helps us communicate efficiently with physicians so we and they can stay focused on patient outcomes.”
PrescribeIT® lets you manage incoming e-prescriptions and send renewal requests - right from your Kroll PMS, without the use of paper, fax or e-fax.
Some pharmacists worry that automation will take the human factor out of their business, but Beairsto says that most pharmacies that modernize keep their staff and deploy them in higher value areas, such as patient and caregiver consultations.
The future is here
The end-to-end solutions that power modern pharmacies are available now. More than 5,000 Canadian pharmacists trust the Kroll pharmacy management system to integrate their operations, including value-added offerings, such as online appointments, and to give them a single source of truth about their business, while delivering a consistent patient experience in person and online.
With an integrated, automated modern approach to your business you can find efficiency and productivity opportunities while reducing cost and risk and spending more time helping your community. Winn reminds us that “we’re going to be caring for even more people post-COVID. The opioid crisis, chronic disease management and mental health are ongoing concerns, and pharmacists will be important players in helping communities recover and regain their health.”
Join more than 117,000 healthcare professionals across Canada who are connected via the TELUS Health ecosystem.