Mar 10 2020

Will-Call Bin Management Offers Pharmacy Workflow Visibility, Improved Efficiency

"Organized chaos" might be a polite way to describe the will call areas that exist in many pharmacies.  We all know the drill.  A customer arrives at the pharmacy to retrieve a prescription, tells a staff member the name associated with the prescription, and then watches the staffer hunt through a sea of identical bags, looking for the right one.  Sometimes the package is right where it's supposed to be.  But other times, the staff member seems to go on a scavenger hunt throughout the dispensing area, looking for the patient's prescription, which the "system" says has been filled.

This scenario plays out thousands of times a day in pharmacies nationwide.  In most cases, pharmacy staff is able to locate patients' prescriptions, but it just seems there must be a better, more efficient way.  This is especially true given the critical need for pharmacies to manage their prescription workflows, both in terms of improved patient experiences and ensuring a well-managed inventory.

For patients, misplaced prescriptions can mean a prolonged wait, as pharmacy staff search neighboring bins, recently filled bins, and doublecheck the system.  The experience gets especially harrowing if a patient hears the dreaded: "Please have a seat while we track this down."

The pharmacy feels the impact in multiple ways.  First, dealing with a misplaced prescription can take an inordinate amount of staff time.  As the line of waiting patients builds, this often means another staff member is pulled away from other tasks to help.  But it also underscores the likelihood of larger issues: Inability to account for dispensed medication; unclaimed prescriptions that remain in the bin; medications that expire while waiting for pickup; inventory discrepancies, and of course; the ensuing impact on the pharmacy's bottom line.

Fortunately, bin management is a highly solvable problem.  Advanced technology systems now provide for "virtual" will-call bins that add visibility to the workflow and enable staff members to know precisely where a prescription is at any point in the dispensing process.  Many technology solutions allow pharmacies to manage core pharmacy workflow stations, which generally include prescription processing, dispensing, technician check, pharmacist check, and prescription pick up.  Depending on a pharmacy's specific needs, some or all of these "stations" are utilized.

But a serious breakdown occurs, when the pharmacy workflow stations operate in silos, and do not seamlessly integrate to offer full visibility and access.  Which is why it is essential to select a pharmacy solution that offers full and seamless integration, and effectively alleviates critical will call inefficiencies.

The PrimeRx™ pharmacy management system, offered by Micro Merchant Systems, provides a good example.  PrimeRx™ provides comprehensive pharmacy management and is especially innovative with regard to prescription workflow management.  The system was designed based on insight and recommendations from pharmacists and is updated regularly to reflect changing needs and improved technological capabilities.  Here are a few bin management capabilities that help organize critical workflow processes:

  • Flexibility.  PrimeRx™ provides a pharmacy with the option of configuring its bin management system to meet its specific needs.  Among other things, a pharmacy can set a "must pick-up date" which notifies pharmacy staff about prescriptions remaining in the bin past that deadline.  The pharmacy also has the option of disabling the bin management feature, if having this capability is not a priority.
  • Virtual "Bins" Record Real-Time Processing.  When a prescription enters PrimeRx™, it is automatically placed in a virtual bin, where it will remain as it passes through each workflow station.  As the prescription moves through the validation, fill queue, dispensing, check, re-check and ready-for-pickup workflows, PrimeRx™ automatically marks each stage.  Should a patient arrive at the pharmacy before a prescription is ready, pharmacy staff can quickly determine its precise location.  In these instances, the pharmacy staff can notify the pharmacist of the patient's arrival and can choose to expedite the process.
  • Customized Internal Bins.  Pharmacies are regularly faced with prescriptions that, for any multitude of reasons, are not eligible to be filled right away.  Instead, such problematic prescriptions must be identified within the system, and prevented from inadvertently being filled until all issues are resolved.  PrimeRx™ addresses this need through the use of internal bins, which can be tailored to address each prescription's specific issues.  Common reasons for utilizing an internal bin include: 
    • Missing prior authorization
    • Missing or incomplete patient information
    • Potential medication conflict
    • Medication out of stock 
    • Need for patient counseling

      In addition to "flagging" problematic prescriptions and preventing them from being filled, PrimeRx™ offers additional internal bin functionality including:

    • The ability to record notes associated with a particular prescription.  This capability eliminates the traditional reliance on handwritten notes, which invariably become lost as the prescription moves through the workflow.
    • Extensive tracking capabilities, including the ability to identify prescriptions that have exceeded the pre-determined "time-limit" for pickups; high-cost prescriptions that have been specially ordered; prescriptions for patients with medication management plans, and many other variations.
  • Partnerships with Technology Innovators.  As valuable as the above-described PrimeRx™ core functionality may be, it is significantly strengthened through a series of third-party partnerships that allow additional will call capabilities.  PrimeRx™ pharmacies have direct access to these third parties, and benefit from providers including:
    • Parata – A leading provider of pharmacy automation and medication management solutions, including the Parata Max® high-speed robotic dispenser which can automate up to 60 percent of script volume.
    • PickPoint– Leading supplier of after hours, remote dispensing, and telepharmacy point of care solutions.
    • ScriptPro – Leading robotic prescription dispensing system manufacturer.  Similar to Parata, its robots can process as much as 60 percent of daily prescription volume

The will-call bin is often cited as a top "pain point" for pharmacies trying to improve efficiency and patient experiences.  A few years ago, ScriptPro CEO Mike Coughlin cited two specific problems inherent to the will call process, namely "the potential for errors caused by staff picking up the wrong prescription from a bin, and the possibility for diversion that will call prescriptions represent."

As the above discussion makes clear, improving the will call process is a front burner issue for leading pharmacy technology systems including PrimeRx™.  And, as third-party developers continued to prioritize the issue, pharmacies can look ahead to greater efficiency and automation in managing this critical function.