Recently, ITK had the opportunity to speak with Western Australian Pharmacist, Scott Braddock. We invited Scott to share a little insight into his automation journey and why this pathway has become a critical part of the pharmacy groups business model, moving forward, particularly during the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
Editor – How did your automation journey begin?
Scott – Our 200 square metre Busselton pharmacy was the first to embrace automation, installing a robot, mainly due to space restrictions as part of our transition to a new banner group.
Automation excited us; importantly the capacity to maintain 99% stock holding, with the required adjustments to the pharmacy footprint being minor. We completed this installation four years ago, proceeding with the V-Max machine with autoloader. Not only did it reduce space requirements, it streamlined our filing and stock replenishment system. This, combined with the improved speed and accuracy, resulted in us establishing dedicated aged-care and dispensary staff.
Given the volume of scripts that can be processed because of the speed of the robot, the transitioning of our Manjimup pharmacy was seamless and made life much easier. One of the pharmacies is getting a lot busier, and while being an average size, can be operated with one pharmacist and dispense technician processing in excess of 200 scripts a day with ease, thanks to the robot.
Particularly with vaccines, our last flu season was incredibly busy. In that pharmacy, they could process large volumes of flu vaccines and dispense with one pharmacist.
Editor – What are some other benefits of automation for your pharmacies?
Scott – There are many things in addition to script volume efficiency. Stock control is key in this new COVID-19 normal world as you are constantly running low or out of stock of certain brands and need to substitute. With the robot, you just load stock, and it does the rest by sorting it and putting it away—where traditionally you made space in the dispensary; you’d have to move something or list it by drug or brand name. Stock would invariably get lost and then you’d be hunting for it. ‘Oh, what’s it under? Where is it?’ being common complaints.
While I don’t have an autoloader in all pharmacies, even with a belt scanner, it is still faster.
Editor – How does automation maximise efficiency and streamline your entire operations across multiple pharmacies?
Scott – Our pharmacies are quite dispersed which makes things a little more difficult regarding stock between stores. We’ve just introduced multi-stores, so they can be better linked when it comes to stock management. Knowing stock on hand and being able to transfer stock between pharmacies is imperative. With our nursing homes, we used to outsource the packing but installed a sachet packing robot 12 months ago. While the transition continues, the efficiency benefits have been excellent.
Editor – Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, how has automation and working through the many challenges of the ongoing pandemic journey been for your pharmacies?
Scott – COVID-19, for all community pharmacies, has been crazy. Just the sheer volume of phone calls, faxes and emails have been unprecedented. As we further embrace automation, we are optimistic we can arrange something given the sheer volume of scripts that are faxed. I think electronic scripts, as we look to the future, will assist. We still have surgeries that won’t embrace any technology above the fax, but I am confident the transition to e-prescribing will assist the situation. At the height of the pandemic, automation was our lifeline on a number of levels.
Overall, stock management and substitution between brands was straightforward. Working through piles of scripts and interfacing between staff feeding the stock and the robot dispensing was amazing. To be honest, I doubt we would have been able to do the volume of scripts we processed without automation, it is that simple. We would have been working late into the night to complete the volumes we saw, but this was largely alleviated as we had one person working through faxes and emails as the scripts were dispensed by the robot.
Finally, I would like to add that automation makes everything scalable and there is literally no downside for my business.
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