Interview with Tim Logan, Amcal Nambour
Nambour is located 100 kilometres north of the Queensland state capital, Brisbane. The town lies in the sub-tropical hinterland of the Sunshine Coast at the foot of the Blackall Range, with a population of approximately 11,000. Amcal Plus in Nambour Plaza has recently finalised an ownership merge and blended two pharmacies. As a result, a complete refit was done and a new banner group joined.
The prior considerations
Editor: Can you provide a little background on your pharmacy and the events leading up to your refit?
Tim: In 2018, towards the end of my pharmacy lease, I had to make a decision as the future in the existing location was not looking favourable. I spoke with Jason and Fiona from the Terry White Chemmart Pharmacy nearby and we decided that our two businesses were a compatible fit to amalgamate. We had one pharmacy processing 400 to 500 scripts per day and another doing 150 to 200 scripts per day.
Editor: How did you proceed?
Tim: We merged my business into theirs, and remained at their location within the Plaza shopping centre at Ann Street in Nambour. It soon became apparent that the floor plan and dispensary flow of the previous footprint, designed for 400 to 500 scripts per day, would become too stretched in the new entity, so we considered changing the fitout.
We decided to review each of the workflow elements of the pharmacy as part of the new design. This would ensure financial transactions weren’t being conducted in the same vicinity as clinical consultations and dispensing. There was a challenge to find a solution to dispensing a large number of prescriptions each day while also dealing with the increased stock requirements.
Editor: How was the review of dispensary workflow and efficiency conducted?
Tim: The entire workflow for pharmacists and dispensary technicians was broken down as the existing footprint became increasingly congested. We redesigned the pharmacy predominantly around the benefits of the Rowa automation system. As there were not large dispensary shelving requirements in this robotic system, we were able to position the pharmacist well forward within the pharmacy.
Editor: What were the benefits considered with automation?
Tim: Automation has enabled the pharmacist to more easily talk directly to consumers about their prescriptions, eliminating one complete layer of handling; while allowing provision for another dispensing station. Following automation, prescriptions are being handled more efficiently. This is primarily because pharmacists aren’t manually re-stocking or returning to the shelves to pack or pick stock — a very streamlined and efficient process has ensued. Further, customers aren’t waiting as long for their scripts, as they are being dispensed and filed for pickup more expeditiously.
"We redesigned the pharmacy predominantly around the benefits of the Rowa automation system."
Editor: Elements of capital cost compared to the efficiencies gained are often raised with automation. Was this a similar experience with your automation journey?
Tim: We could identify the challenge because of the time spent putting away stock. One of the key elements of the Rowa everyone considers is the picking head. However, a key source of efficiency is the ProLog stock conveyor.
With this machinery, the tote boxes are tipped onto a conveyor belt which gradually feeds the stock into the machine, counts the stock via barcode scanning and puts it away. You don’t have someone ticking off an invoice and subsequently putting that stock away. And when you’re doing that many scripts each day, that’s a lot of stock and a lot of time.
As people’s time is freed up, we’re no longer rushing consultations and interactions with customers. We have been able to redeploy people and more effectively use people’s skills in dealing with customers rather than just putting away stock.
We found that, with the departure of a couple of staff (through normal coming and going, not forced redundancy), we were able to rejig job assignments of existing staff to cover for the loss, and ensure customer service was focused on, without having to directly replace them. The efficiencies delivered by the robot enabled that process and saving to occur.
Editor: Considering finance, specifically the funding of a higher capital purchase such as an automation system, what were some of the key considerations?
Tim: There was a business case in terms of achieving a more efficient engagement of staff while creating an infrastructure that provided a good workflow. We did the sums and could see that, by financing it over a five-year period (including a maintenance contract given it is such a complicated piece of equipment), considering all of the capital costs, it resulted in a positive return on investment. The Guild Group has a fantastic financing service available to Guild Members. They provide very good service and rates pertaining to a finance package. At present, dealing with banks and finance companies can be really painful. The Guild Insurance company knows pharmacy very well, dealing with pharmacy and its infrastructure requirements, and very efficiently provides excellent finance packages.
Editor: What would be one piece of advice you could provide to a pharmacy considering automation?
Tim: We’re under continual pressure, in terms of the cost of dispensing and the margins available regarding government policy and competition. Everyone needs to have a good look at the way they do business to ensure they’re doing things as efficiently as possible. If your workflow isn’t allowing you to spend quality time with your patients, you’ll lose that relationship. This may also affect the potential value that pharmacists add to people’s medication and therapies. That’s why we exist. When your automation manager comes to talk to you, they assess your footprint and workload, and they are able to design a system from the ground up. It is basically modular, and there’s a lot of flexibility in getting an individual design to suit the pharmacy. You don’t have to be doing 500 or 600 scripts a day. In fact, I’ve seen reasonably small pharmacies with a smaller machine than ours, but there’s probably a lower threshold, around 150 to 200 prescriptions a day. If you package it right and your other overheads permit, you can carefully consider it. But certainly, in excess of 200 scripts per day, then it’s a very sensible journey to embark upon.
If you'd like to discuss your pharmacy workflow and automation options, contact your local
BD Rowa Territory Manager: