Retail Pharmacy Workflow Basics

July 17, 2014 • Pharmacy Operations • Views: 99917

Go with the flow!  The “workflow” that is.  Almost nothing is more fundamental to the accuracy and efficiency of a busy pharmacy than a functioning workflow.  By “workflow” we mean the way in which a prescription enters the pharmacy, moves through the filling process, and ends up correctly in the hands of the appropriate patient.  For those who have worked in a community pharmacy setting for many years, the concept of workflow may be nothing new.  However, even for veterans in this setting, it doesn’t hurt to step back and think about the importance of a functional workflow from time to time.  Additionally, other individuals may benefit from a review of the basics of pharmacy workflow:


  • Pharmacy students
  • New retail pharmacists
  • New pharmacy technicians
  • Pharmacists transitioning from hospital
  • Pharmacy executives who haven’t worked “the bench” in a while (or ever!)
  • New pharmacy owners setting up their own pharmacy for the first time
  • Pharmacy entrepreneurs

Pharmacy workflow involves, fundamentally, 6 BASIC STEPS by which a new prescription moves through from start to finish.  This article is workflow 101.  Just the basics.  I am going to describe this workflow from the perspective of a new patient bringing in a new written prescription.  This workflow may be somewhat abbreviated or changed when the prescription enters through a phone call, a refill request, a FAX or e-prescription, but the fundamental steps remain mostly the same.


Note:  I am intentionally not discussing pharmacy software, though the software you use will make a big difference in some of your layout decisions. However, the fundamental parts of the workflow are pretty much the same for every pharmacy and every type of software. 


The first step in the pharmacy workflow is the point at which the patient hands the new prescription to the pharmacy staff person.  This is usually a pharmacy technician.  The location of this area is critical.  It needs to be clearly identified so that patients know where to go.  It also should be equipped with a computer for entering patient information.  Don’t overlook the fact that you need some flat counter space here for patients to put down a purse while looking for their insurance card and some place for the technician to place the prescription(s) and patient identification (driver’s license, insurance cards) while entering data.  These things seem obvious, but I’ve seen drop off locations that seem to have overlooked these basic necessities.  Additionally, think about the fact that this station may need more than 1 person working at a time.  So even for new pharmacies that may begin with just 1 computer here, the station should be designed with the potential for expansion when needed.

The drop off is where you enter all the patient identifying information and their insurance information.  With some workflow software this is also the point at which the prescription is scanned into the computer and attached to the appropriate patient.  If so, this workstation needs a scanner and some place to store the scanned prescriptions for filing later.  As for the scanner, this needs to be chosen carefully for speed and clarity.

Ideally the drop off position should be completely separate from other potential uses.  For example, I’ve seen workflows in which the drop off also functioned as one of the POS stations for ringing up customers.  This tends to create confusion and disruptions in the workflow.  Don’t do it.

Finally, make sure there is at least 1 phone for every operating drop off station terminal.  Often a problem with a prescription is discovered at drop off, and a close phone will allow the necessary phone call to rectify it (or try to!).


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Author: Jason Poquette

5 Responses to Retail Pharmacy Workflow Basics

  1. Vagabond says:

    Scan the Rx? What magic is this? Paper,paper,paper here.

  2. Gary Morrow, RPh says:

    Please eliminate a seemingly universal mistake at the drop-off station of workflow. I hear it all the time as a floater pharmacist and as a customer. I refer to the question “Have you been here before?”, or worse “Are you in our system?” or some variation of these. What are the possible answers to this question? A) “Yes I have.” The technician then looks in the computer for the patient info. Or option B) “No”, or “I don’t know”. The technician then looks in the computer. One day some smart-ass is going to sound off with option C): “You have the computer; why don’t you look it up and tell me!” Do you get it? Either way, the input station starts with accessing patient information. So skip those kinds of questions. They make you sound lazy. Besides, that is not the way to welcome the patient/client/guest to your pharmacy. People like to hear their names, so say it aloud as a form of greeting. It is the first step toward building goodwill and putting your customers at ease.

  3. jasonpoquette says:

    Hi Gary,
    You make a great point. Questions that don’t need to be asked are a waste of time and could be replaced by important questions for sure. The key to efficiency is to eliminate waste. This is definitely going to be included in my next article on Workflow 201 – Efficiency!

  4. Keish Hale,CPh.T says:

    I remember when I was working at Wal-Mart I worked the drop off window and enjoyed it. It takes precision to run the drop off effectively. Firstly, you have to make sure that you provide customer service because our customers are our bread and butter and we need to make sure that we treat each customer the way that we would like to be treated. Secondly, you must follow the 5 Rights to make sure accuracy is on point. The Tech has to be able to multi-task while at the drop off.

  5. Tom Hanson says:

    You forgot another workstation area, the drive-thru window. This adds so many more headaches and problems to the workflow you would not believe it. It also would requires your minimum staffing levels in a pharmacy to be 5 people and not 4.

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