While the pharmacist and pharmacy technician are the most critical “pieces” to a fabulous pharmacy, the tool that is most important for them is their pharmacy software. There are no shortage of pharmacy software vendors out there. Many of them have developed great products and as such make the day to day life of the pharmacy team much better. But not all software systems are created equal. Some are fantastic. Some are nightmares. Having worked for many different companies in my career, and floating for staffing agencies at a variety of stores, I’ve seen my fair share of pharmacy software.
For those who don’t know, retail pharmacy dispensing software is a fairly complicated feat of programming. Pharmacy dispensing software must integrate so many different functions and capacities that I’m actually quite impressed that, generally speaking, they all work pretty well. The software must accurately manage relatively complex billing adjudications in real-time, keep track of detailed patient dispensing data, track inventory, manage the workflow and generate dozens of reports. And there are literally hundreds of other necessary features and functions as well.
When a company decides to develop and market a pharmacy dispensing software package, that is typically all they do. It is that complex and robust. And to compete on a national level they have to be prepared to tweak their development to handle the variations in requirements among the 50 states where they hope to do business.
And so, if you represent a pharmacy software system, you have my respect for what you have accomplished. it isn’t easy.
That said, there are some companies and software out there that are clearly inferior to others. This article isn’t intended to list those companies from best to worse, or vice versa. I can’t do that. I’m not intimately familiar enough with all of them to be fair. But I can tell you that there are some qualities that every pharmacy should look for and expect from their software vendor.
1) System stability. The software shouldn’t crash, freeze or otherwise become unstable except for the rarest of occasions. The programming should have been done in such a way that all the simultaneous functions going on in the claims processing workflow happen smoothly and quickly. Time is money. And a software system that performs even a few seconds faster than a competitor can result in thousands of minutes saved over the course of a year.
2) Tech support. When you buy a pharmacy software system you are buying more than some coding. You’re buying a company. You’re buying a business relationship. It is sort of like a marriage. There is an expectation on both sides. You are expected to pay for their service. They are expected to actually provide service. But once you have taken the plunge and bought the software, it is very complicated and expensive to get a “divorce.” Therefore, the wise pharmacy owner will ask a LOT about their tech support and the kind of responsiveness to expect.
3) Workflow transparency. What I mean by this is that a great piece of pharmacy software allows you fast and comprehensive information about every prescription in your workflow. For every prescription that WAS filled or is BEING filled you should be able to see how it moved through the workflow and where it currently is. The simplest way to explain this is that if Mr. Smith calls in 10 prescriptions, it should be very easy to see where all 10 are in the workflow. A simple, single search should show you (for example) that 7 prescriptions are filled in the bin, 2 were too soon to fill and are set to fill next Tuesday and 1 needs authorization from the doctor. That sounds pretty basic, but many software systems would require multiple steps to gather all that information. Some couldn’t do that at all and would require many hand-written notes for the staff to be able to give Mr. Smith the whereabouts of his order.
4) Efficiency. A great retail pharmacy wants to maximize the time we have available to interact with patients and grow our business, and that means minimizing the time spent on routine prescription entry, order processing, inventory maintenance, claims adjudication, printing of labels and leaflets, etc. The ability to be able to manage workflow from various workstations simultaneously is critical. How many steps does it take to add a new patient and how many screens do you have to access to do so? How efficient is the transfer in and out process? How efficiently are refill requests managed? I know of one software system that doesn’t allow 2 employees to be working in the insurance fields at the same time, even for 2 totally different patients. Very inefficient. Some systems have dozens of fields available for adding patients, most of which you might not use, but you are forced to enter through each field every time. Just wrong. Does the software allow the entire prescription to be filled, labeled, paperwork printed and everything before the pharmacist has even seen it? This results in lots of wasted time when prescriptions need to be fixed.
5) Intuitive. The pharmacy steps and screens should be intuitive. They should make sense. I worked on a pharmacy software system where the electronic prescriptions all came into a separate screen. You had to hit “Cntrl-A” to view the script (why not a button that says “view Rx”?). Then you had to print it. Then you had to back out to the previous screen. Then click fill. The view all the patient matches (even those with totally different dates of births). It was ridiculous. Nothing was intuitive. It wasn’t smart. A well-designed pharmacy software system has an obvious place where all prescriptions are located. You can see those that are ready to “fill” and those that have “rejected” and those waiting for refill authorization and those waiting for pickup.
6) Communication. Great pharmacy software should allow an easy way to document all the necessary notes to communicate effectively and document all relevant issues and concerns. These notes should be HARD to miss. You should be able to document notes related to particular fillings of prescriptions and notes related to the patient in general. Some notes should even be allowed to FLASH or HIGHLIGHT or something. Did you call Mrs. Jones to check in on her? You should be able to easily document this. Did you call Dr. Writesalot about a prescription? There should be an easy way to save this. In my opinion, this is an area that almost no software systems are doing well. It needs improvement.
7) Affordable. Pharmacy software systems can get pricey. For those opening a new pharmacy, I recommend sitting down before seeing the price tag for these systems. But, as I said at the beginning, pharmacy software is complicated. I don’t dispute the purchase price of some of these systems. What I mean by affordable is mostly the month to month support. I expect and want my pharmacy software company to stay in business. But when they nickle and dime you for each extra service, the monthly maintenance can quickly get out of control.
8) Paperless. A great pharmacy software system should be designed to minimize paper waste and paper notes. One approach to this feature is to hold off on printing of any paperwork until the final step after pharmacist verification. Additionally, notes connected with a pharmacy order (like “Mrs. Smith also wants a box of pseudoephedrine”) should be able to be added into the pharmacy notes system rather than a paper note. If a product is going to be stored in the refrigerator, a simple button should indicate the location of the order and be clearly visible to the person at the pickup station.
9) Claim processing simplicity. The heart and soul of any pharmacy software system is claims billing and processing. We spend a good percentage of every day billing and re-billing prescriptions. But not all software systems make this easy. These days so much additional information often has to be added to claims, software systems should be designed to easily add and remember this data. Split billing should be made simple too. The process should be fool-proof, protecting the pharmacy from mistakes that could cost them money. For example,the software should make it very difficult to accidentally reverse old claims.
10) Inventory management. Pharmacy software systems can aid the pharmacy in managing inventory dollars. But to do this effectively it must be able to integrate with your wholesalers for applying new orders to you inventory on-hands as they arrive and make it easy to adjust inventory levels from within the workflow when needed. Pharmacy software should be able to help identify returnable stock that isn’t being used.
11) Clinical integration. Finally, a great piece of pharmacy software should integrate with many clinical tools which the pharmacist may want to use during the course of the day. Examples include drug interaction details and dosing guidelines and even lab data when needed. MTM services should also integrate with the pharmacy software as well.
So how does your pharmacy software system measure up? Are you happy with it? Looking to change? Feel free to comment below or shoot me an email if you want to discuss this topic more.
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Last modified: August 24, 2016