Every day, pharmacists juggle their many duties with a smile, from consulting with patients and filling prescriptions to tracking inventory and staying updated on the latest health news. During periods like Medicare Open Enrollment, pharmacies are even busier than usual as patients, overwhelmed by the prospect of finding a new plan, look for advice and assistance.
Pharmacies see their patients significantly more than other healthcare providers, which puts them in the position to provide high levels of guidance and care. But with a lot already on their plates, finding time to provide this care may be a challenge. According to the Pharmacy Times Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey, over 30% of pharmacists surveyed noted that patient interaction contributes to job satisfaction. Nearly 40% said that improving patients’ health contributed to their job satisfaction. But in that same study, nearly 54% of pharmacists said that heavy workloads contributed to dissatisfaction with their jobs.
How can pharmacists find a balance? Technology holds the answer to improving service without significantly increasing work. Pharmacies are increasingly turning to new technologies to simplify their workflows and improve the overall patient experience. Among the benefits of integrating technology into a pharmacy’s daily workflow are reduced costs, increased efficiency, fewer errors, and improved patient engagement. The key is to decrease time spent in areas that can be automated so as to free up time to focus on actions that increase patient satisfaction and loyalty and positively affect the business’ bottom line.
One such area of investment is in dispensing technology, which helps address issues of long wait times at pharmacies. Dispensing technology executes the monotonous, time-consuming task of filling prescriptions, giving pharmacists more time to tap into their clinical side and consult with patients. This in turn helps increase patient engagement and build loyalty to the pharmacy.
Similarly, digital prescription technology has been noted to improve patient satisfaction and adherence. A 2015 study published in Perspectives in Health Information Management found that 80% of patients preferred electronic prescriptions to paper and 30% felt it improved their adherence to medication. Hand-in-hand with this is software and services that help simplify patient communications, which can also help with adherence. Automating patient communications eliminates the need to call or text each patient manually with information like refill reminders, welcome messages, and more. Plus, in an era where personalization and relevance are basic expectations, the ability to customize and target communications to patients is a necessity.
More recently, pharmacists have moved toward virtual consultations as telehealth and telepharmacy become more popular. Remote dispensing and remote consulting, for instance, provide a way for pharmacists to offer their services from a remote location, often via secure video calls. This opens the door for pharmacists to expand their geographic footprint and reach patients who may not have access to a pharmacy or may have difficulty getting to one. Why is this important? According to a 2018 report in the American Journal of Medical Research, almost 20% of the U.S. population resides in rural areas (approximately 60 million people). Between March 2003 and December 2013, 12.1% of the independently owned rural pharmacies serving these areas closed, reducing access to pharmaceutical services for residents. Meanwhile, in Florida, a House healthcare panel recently unanimously approved a bill to allow community pharmacists to dispense prescriptions through automated pharmacy kiosks. The kiosks could potentially be located close to or far away from a pharmacy and would have teleconferencing capabilities so patients can speak to their pharmacists. The bill is still under review in the State House.
There are many other examples, but the bottom line is that technological advancements that aid meaningful patient interactions empower pharmacists to make a difference in their patients’ lives. Fortunately, plenty of options abound — it’s just a matter of choosing the best option for a business’ goals.