October 09, 2020 – Luke Watson was a driving force in the automation of his Mentone pharmacy 18 months ago. His partner was initially resistant to the concept of automation, unconvinced there was a tangible need to embrace this technology.
Interview with Luke Watson – TerryWhite Chemmart Mentone, VIC
Can you provide a little background of your pharmacy?
Luke: My business partner Rob has been involved in the pharmacy for approximately 20 years. The site was built in the ’50s, one of the oldest undercover shopping centres in the southern hemisphere. About 10 years ago, it was bulldozed and redeveloped into a new modern centre, and I became a partner five years ago. We pride ourselves on providing old-fashioned service in a modern setting.
What were the challenges in your pharmacy relating to dispensary workflow?
Luke: Our pharmacy enjoyed four to five years of sustained growth as the business expanded. During this time, we felt the dispensary was under increasing strain, and things had to change if we were to maintain our high level of patient care. We were dutiful in providing customer access to pharmacists, while the dispensary workflow was putting a significant strain on our entire pharmacy, at the expense of pharmacist–patient contact time. We wanted to consider automation to increase this engagement and provide improved patient outcomes.
What elements were considered regarding automation and the pharmacy workflow?
Luke: The decision to automate was primarily about providing and maintaining ready access to our pharmacists. It was the pharmacists, we felt, who were the most suitably equipped to provide up-to-date and comprehensive medication advice. The patient seeks access and engagement with the pharmacist, yet they seemed to display a sense of unease interrupting them. It made little sense therefore having such a key person tucked away at the back of the dispensary, inaccessible to patients. We wanted to differentiate ourselves and facilitate better access and engagement between the patient and the pharmacist. This, we reasoned, would be achieved by embracing a fully automated dispensing model where the pharmacists were accessible to give the latest medication and health advice.
With a host of automation solutions available, what path did you follow in choosing a BD Rowa™ ?
Luke: We considered four main companies offering automation and quickly identified two that were going to meet our needs. The two short-listed systems were chosen because they would deliver the efficiencies that we ultimately sought. At the end of our due diligence process, we decided on the BD Rowa™ system because we felt it would help us achieve our primary goal of providing greater patient–pharmacist access. It was also reinforced by reliability — BD is an established company with a reputable product and tremendous local support.
There was no denying that the financial cost was the biggest consideration we identified. We wanted to ensure that there was a measurable cost-benefit to the business. And by doing that, we felt that if we could differentiate ourselves and make pharmacists more accessible to the patient, that’s where the strength of our business and the core values would resonate. We also had to consider cash flow and ensure that we didn’t put a big strain on the business in the short term. We carefully considered dispensary logistics as part of planning the refit, accommodating a new dispensary and all the fun that comes with that.
“The decision to automate was primarily about providing and maintaining ready access to our pharmacists. It was the pharmacists, we felt, who were the most suitably equipped to provide up-to-date and comprehensive medication advice.”
Luke Watson | TerryWhite Chemmart Mentone, VIC
Do you have any advice for those considering their automation options at present?
Luke: I think it’s a case of knowing exactly what you’re aiming to achieve with automation. This was not just about installing a robot — we required a design that allowed us to meet the needs of the patient and for the improvement of the business into the future. It is not necessarily just about pure efficiencies, it’s about a whole-of-business approach. When we were conducting our due diligence, we were hearing from other pharmacies that they could never go back to how they were practising before automation. Twelve months down the track and I’m certainly one of those people saying that I’d hate to go back to the days prior to automation. It’s improved our business so much and has enhanced the expanding role of patient primary health care in our pharmacy, which is exciting.