You walk into the average brick and mortar pharmacy, and what do you see? Nine times out of ten, you see long lines, poor service, and a super stressed out pharmacy team.

Why does the long and chaotic line plague us? And why do we always run around like chickens with their heads cut off?

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One way that pharmacists and companies manage retail operations resembles that of an assembly line. They produce prescriptions and conduct work in batches. Hence, the volume of tasks completed is the measure of success.

The more a technician can repeat the same task, the faster and more efficient they will become. In other words, the time spent per task decreases.

Therefore, the success of this management style relies on a technician being at each customer-facing point (drop-off, pick-up, drive-thru). That way, each one should be able to work faster and complete the most amount of work.

The problem?

Operational Excellence No Longer Means Filling and Dispensing Prescriptions Quickly

Years ago, patients would come to the pharmacy just to pick up a product and leave. But that is no longer the case. Now they come to improve their health and quality of life, and there are so many different ways people seek this healthcare value.

Say a patient comes up to the pick up counter wanting to get an immunization, but is worried about cost through insurance. A technician has to switch from customer service mode to triage and problem-solving mode.

What if the patient is interested in adherence programs and prescription delivery? The highly specialized Pick Up Technician now is severely under-prepared to serve at a high level.

There will now be a significant delay. Multiply this scenario by the hundreds of patients that visit and call the pharmacy each day, and you can begin to see why pharmacy teams will feel understaffed.

Similarly, a patient wants to use a coupon for a different manufacturer for their epinephrine auto injector. Another wants to know why their prior authorization hasn’t been completed in the last 2 weeks. Each problem has the potential to escalate.

Furthermore, a new patient wants to drop off a very high dosage of narcotic, and the technician doesn’t want to lie about inventory. They fumble with words and paralysis takes over.

It just so happens that the next person in line wants to report an adverse reaction to medicine, and blames the technician who filled it.

All of a sudden, the economies of scale that we wanted from efficient workflow no longer works. This just created bottlenecks at one, two, or three different parts of operations.

While it might be stressful for the under-trained technician stuck in the bottleneck, the pharmacist at the eye of the tornado has the biggest burden. They see and hear everything going on at every corner of the pharmacy, yet they can’t be everywhere at once.

It no longer pays to have specialized technicians who are experts in only one or two things. You may be the fastest typist or filler, but if you don’t know how to communicate insurance problems and de-escalate angry patients when the Pick Up technician has 5 people in line, the scale you tried to create goes down the drain. Over and over again.

Master of None, but Patients Can’t See That

Our jobs at the retail pharmacy now require us all to wear many hats. We need to be subject matter experts in all arenas and flexible enough to shift and adapt to new situations. Patients don’t see all the different parts of business in the background, nor do they care. It doesn’t add value to them.

When they come to the pharmacy, patients want to see and experience the flow of value towards them. Education about medicine, seamless insurance processes, positive interactions, safe and accurate product dispensing, and direct healthcare treatment.

Patients could care less about how many prescriptions that we can fill on time or about the metrics we have to meet. They don’t care about our inventory processes or our regulatory audits.

We can truly make an impact on our patients if one thing happens: When they come up to the pharmacy counter, they meet someone who doesn’t give them the run around. Patients want effective, timely healthcare. They witness a professional who can walk them from point A to point B to Z and back to A.

The only way to stay relevant in the healthcare space is to add value to patients and their health while keeping our sanity. It might mean that we have to learn new skills or use multiple platforms to serve and treat our patients. One thing is clear: our real value comes from flexibility, adaptability, and timely service, not building a bigger pill production assembly line manned by zombies.

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Business Tips from The Corporate PharmD

  • Do not train pharmacy technicians to be “specialized” at only one or two processes or workstations
  • Create a learning culture where everyone is responsible for teaching one another new things
  • Focus on the perceived value patients receive, and delivering on their expectations will be easier
  • The more you teach your team now, the less you will have to do yourself later.

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