Community Pharmacies: Keeping Up with Technology to Stay Competitive

| URAC Staff
Pharmacist holding pill bottle and digital tablet

There are always plenty of shiny new toys on the market. The challenge for retail community pharmacies is identifying the new technology that will actually improve operations.

Reducing Dispensing Errors

 “If you are running a good operation, you are keeping up with technology,” says Joe Bruno, R.Ph., MBA, president and CEO of Community Pharmacies. “We’re constantly upgrading hardware and software to provide higher quality assurance (QA), dispensing verification scanning” and a number of other uses, he says. “Overall, [the error rate] is pretty low. With millions of prescriptions filled every day, I think [community pharmacies] do a pretty good job already.”  However, improvement is always welcome – savvy community pharmacies can use technology to reduce prescription errors, he adds.

Technology is “definitely enhancing quality,” says John Beckner, senior director, strategic initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). “We’re seeing it reduce prescription errors with improved barcode scanning” and otherwise promoting higher overall QA.

While some dispensing errors are mathematically inevitable, technology can serve a powerful, final last line of defense to prevent prescription mishaps. Technology can provide critical prompts about dangerous drug interactions and guidance about handling dispensing issues. 

According to a report from Transparency Market Research, as pharmacies and hospitals incorporate automated systems to reduce medication errors, the U.S. market for pharmacy repackaging systems will grow to $1.8 billion by the end of 2024. Advanced technologies that pharmacies adopt to improve their workflow may range from a tablet counter to a compact dispensing robot.

Improving Medication Adherence

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3.8 billion prescriptions are written annually in the U.S., of which one in five new prescriptions are never filled and, of those that are filled, 50 percent are taken incorrectly. Medication non-adherence costs upwards of $300 billion annually in avoidable healthcare costs. 

Studies have shown that community pharmacies using multiple adherence interventions were able to achieve significantly higher medication adherence with patients. A large study published in Population Health Management (Dec 1, 2016), which included 528,466 patients, demonstrated how “a community pharmacy can help payers improve population health and help manage healthcare costs” through medication adherence programs. Community pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help improve medication adherence because of their access to the prescription refill information and frequent interactions with patients, the study says.  

From apps to QR codes to smart pill bottles, technology can play an important role here in medication adherence interventions. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than one-third of U.S. adults would have difficulty following instructions on a prescription drug label. Most people throw away the patient information leaflet they get with their prescriptions, but VucaHealth offers an alternative to overcome the health literacy barrier. QR codes printed directly on prescription labels connect patients to quick access to a medication-specific video. Pharmacies are using mobile apps, such as this one from Digital Pharmacist, that uses a HIPAA-secure refill process, asks pharmacist-approved questions to ensure patients understand their medications, schedules patients for vaccinations, and more.

Smart pill bottles that are Internet-linked devices created to remind people to take their pills could be a solution to one of the top reasons for medication nonadherence: forgetfulness. AdhereTech, which makes a smart bottle that monitors and detects when the cap is twisted off, how much medication is removed, and sends reminders if a dose is missed, claims to increase patients’ adherence by an average of 24 percent.

Medication synchronization software helps streamline the pharmacy’s efforts to sync up a patient’s medications for a single monthly pickup. As states across the country (23, so far) pass legislation to remove barriers to medication synchronization services, community pharmacies are in a unique position to add this service and engage with patients on their medications.

Read more in URAC’s Industry Insight Report:  Retail Community Pharmacies: Adapting and Innovating to Succeed in a Turbulent Marketplace

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