Pharmacist holding mobile phone with app open

4 ways technology can solve today's retail pharmacy challenges

By Tracy Bateman, Industry Services Specialist, Retail

Summary

Find out how technology can relieve the pain of today's most acute retail pharmacy challenges

Read time: 5 minutes

Today’s retail pharmacies are struggling, and it’s clear they’ve reached a tipping point. For the past several years, pharmacists, technicians and staff have been stretched thin. Increased workloads, staff shortages and shifting consumer needs have contributed to growing industry headwinds.

As a result, even the nation’s largest pharmacy retailers have recently been forced to reduce operating hours to “improve work-life balance”¹ and shutter stores to accommodate “changes in population, consumer buying and future health needs.”²

And while these measures address the immediate needs of employee burnout, the reality is that retail pharmacy is facing long-term workforce capacity challenges.

The decline in pharmacists and pharmacy students

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. will have a 2% decline in pharmacists over the next 10 years³ — with many vacancies being created by workers who transfer to different occupations even within the industry, such as remote pharmacy benefit admin (PBA) positions.

At the same time, fewer students than ever are pursuing pharmacy degrees, and those that do are entering a profession experiencing a broad expansion of responsibilities.

Despite aggressive hiring campaigns, pharmacy executives must find additional solutions to alleviate the most common challenges behind the counter for today’s pharmacists.

When technology eliminates the administrative and repetitive tasks that take up so much time, pharmacists are empowered to provide care that goes well beyond just medication dispensing.

How can technology help?

Like so many other professions, nearly half of the pharmacists (48%) reported an increase in technology use since the pandemic. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, many digital tools and resources are available to make meaningful changes within the pharmacy space.

From automation to AI, analytics and content management platforms, there are plenty of ways pharmacy retailers can improve everyday workflows, eliminate frustrating processes, and create better work environments for pharmacists and technicians — which ultimately helps attract and retain top talent.

Let’s look at the most common pain points for pharmacists and see how technology can alleviate those challenges.

1. Too many disparate systems

When information is spread across multiple systems that aren’t integrated or connected it can cause data silos, duplication of efforts, and even inconsistent or outdated information. Whether it’s access to drug data or patient health records, pharmacists and technicians need centralized information readily at their fingertips.

For retailers associated with a healthcare provider and an insurance organization, a single patient interaction requires a lengthy process of connecting data between case management, EHR systems, prescriptions and insurance claims. Integrating these systems can improve the communication chain for better clinical outcomes, accountability, and faster remittance to each entity. Ricoh’s Patient Information Management solution creates an end-to-end workflow that eliminates many time-consuming, manual, and paper-based tasks that take pharmacists away from interacting with patients.

With the specialty pharmacy market forecasted to continue growing by 8% per year through 2025, pharmacists are also facing increased demands for the latest drug information and patient education materials — something they don’t have ready access to. It also means complex workflows between third-party agencies such as other prescribers, specialty pharmacies, insurers and even funding programs.

According to a recent survey, “pharmacists communicate about clinical matters with prescribers via their pharmacy software only 33% of the time […] and most of the pharmacists surveyed (58%) find it somewhat or very difficult to access a patient’s out-of-pocket costs.” Depending on staffing, this means pharmacists, pharmacy techs or pharmacy assistants must spend unnecessary time locating missing information, faxing and making phone calls.

Centralizing workflows, processes and data analytics can help retailers consolidate their technology investments while maximizing the benefits for pharmacists and patients. And as retail pharmacies contribute to improved drug monitoring policies, a single source of truth for records and information can support compliance and limit liabilities.

2. A demand for multitasking

Many fulfillment and administrative tasks must be done between pharmacists and technicians while also interacting with patients, inevitably increasing the responsibility and often the burden of ensuring medication accuracy, high-quality customer service, and medical care. While neither should be compromised, the reality is that for pharmacy staff and executives, it is.

But there are ways to address this, and large retailers are already taking steps to do so with advanced technologies such as automation and robotics. For some retailers, the solution is micro-fulfillment centers that use robotics to fill prescriptions.For others, it’s QR codes or augmented reality that can help reduce non-critical, time-consuming interactions such as:

  • Appointment scheduling for vaccines and consults

  • FAQs about store hours, phone numbers, promotions or other healthcare partners

  • Product information for common OTC or prescription medication

  • Registrations for automatic refills

As the pharmacy landscape continues to adopt more of these digital initiatives, retailers will require partners to support the product lifecycles, implementations and maintenance of these technologies.

3. Safety first automation can minimize human error

Close to 7,000 prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs are available in the United States. With this many products on the market, it’s understandable that mistakes happen. Avoiding the slight chance of a medication mishap is mission-critical for all pharmacists.

Errors can occur at any point in the patient care journey; however, there are technologies available today that significantly reduce the chance of inaccuracies at the dispensing stage.

Automation software that uses auto-populating algorithms can save time but more importantly can act as a safety feature for choosing the right patient, verify the drug and calculate the supply — something that can be reassuring for many pharmacists and technicians.

4. Patient education, awareness and shifting behaviors

As the role of pharmacists evolves and becomes more integrated in community health, interactions with patients must also evolve. Executives must support their staff with the right resources to make that happen. That means freeing up their time for more one-on-one patient interactions and using technology to deliver educational materials and ongoing communication.

One of the most significant benefits this can have is on medication adherence — a challenge any pharmacist knows all too well. With an estimated adherence to chronic-condition medications at only 50%⁹, the value of increasing interventions from an accessible community health provider cannot be overstated.

Some of the ways technology can support that are:

  • AI tools to deliver more personalized digital interactions with patients based on their behaviors

  • Omnichannel communications and interventions such as text messages, in-app notifications, phone calls, even in-person counseling

  • Media and smart screens to promote health and wellness programs, vaccination campaigns and other pieces of informational content

  • Remote patient monitoring programs and telehealth services

When technology eliminates the administrative and repetitive tasks that take up so much time, pharmacists are empowered to provide care that goes well beyond dispensing medication.

Summary

As the pressures of labor shortages continue to impact pharmacists, executives must find sustainable solutions for the employee and patient experience.

Pharmacists can play a powerful and growing role within community health — now is the time for retailers to embrace that. According to Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health, “pharmacists are a trusted resource for patients to obtain information about their medication and how it relates to their medical condition. Expanding these pharmacists' roles to guide the community in other ways is valuable.”¹⁰

And patients agree. A recent survey found that 61% of people would like to get more services from their local pharmacy while 74% believed they should be able to step in when primary care is not available.¹¹ This puts retail pharmacies in a unique position to achieve a win-win-win situation for patients, pharmacists and their businesses.

Continue the conversation about digital solutions for a retail pharmacy like yours.

Tracy-Bateman-Pharma-Retail-Blog.jpg
Tracy is a retail industry services specialist with 20-plus years of diverse technology knowledge and experience. Tracy supports top U.S. accounts with thought leadership in software, social analytics, process automation, innovative collaboration, and cloud and infrastructure services. Working strategically and collaboratively, Tracy uses her extensive knowledge to empower retailers to solve business problems and drive productivity, efficiency, and cost savings through technology services and co-innovation.

Tracy Bateman

Industry Services Specialist

Ricoh USA, Inc.

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  1. 1https://www.cbsnews.com/news/pharmacy-opening-hours-cvs-walmart-walgreens-staffing-shortage/
  2. 2https://en.as.com/en/2021/11/21/latest_news/1637460274_684340.html
  3. 3https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291051.htm
  4. 4https://blog.wei.com/5-solutions-to-staffing-shortages-for-nationwide-pharmacy-retailers
  5. 5https://nephronresearch.com/nephron-research-specialty-market-model-2021-2025/
  6. 6https://drugstorenews.com/evolution-retail-pharmacy-demands-innovation-new-tools-embrace-data-and-automation-drive
  7. 7https://www.pbahealth.com/elements/tackling-burnout-in-the-pharmacy/
  8. 8https://www.pbahealth.com/elements/modern-marketing-with-qr-codes/
  9. 9https://www.uspharmacist.com/article/medication-adherence-the-elephant-in-the-room
  10. 10https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/kroger-health-president-future-pharmacies-and-their-it-infrastructure
  11. 11https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/retail/2023-forecast-pharmacists-push-take-greater-role-patient-care