Reigniting the spark in Pharmacy
In 2020, Walid will install a Rowa in another of his stores while rebranding his existing. Walid’s passion for pharmacy is infectious, crediting the integral role of automation in improving primary healthcare services for his patients, reducing costs, waste and improving patient satisfaction. He looks forward to continuing to gain efficiencies through automation.
Can you provide a little background on your pharmacy?
Walid: You would describe our pharmacy as a typical community pharmacy, located in the south-west suburbs of New South Wales. We have approximately 150 m2 of internal floor space, with a dispensary/front of pharmacy split of 70/30 percent. The pharmacy was established in 2001 and is located within a smaller shopping centre precinct, with 12 retail shops within the centre.
What were the challenges relating to efficiency prior to your fit-out earlier this year?
Walid: We were focused on productivity, particularly the efficiencies that could be gained focusing on a forward pharmacy and dispensing model. An increasing challenge for our pharmacy is that we are largely dispensary reliant. A sizeable reason dispensary efficiency is so important is price disclosure, with the margins for generic medicines being steadily eroded over recent years. As a result, our profitability has been affected as the margins are not what they once were.
As a result, we are focused on efficiency while providing the same or an improved customer service experience for our clientele. The challenge that we face each day relates to the repetitive tasks that are performed — they are highly inefficient considering the time they demand to fulfil tasks. For example, putting away stock and re-orders each afternoon consumes hours out of our day and it’s not our core function. Pharmacists are better engaged with the customer, through a more efficient use of time, providing a balance between wages, turnover, profitability and other key elements of pharmacy practice. We have traditionally found that our stock control was not quite right, with too many variables seeming to impact on the efficiency and productivity within the dispensary.
An internal review identified dispensary workflow as a weakness within the pharmacy. What were the key considerations regarding automation and workflow efficiencies?
Walid: We conducted a 12-part study focusing on efficiency, including return on investment, and customer service compared with our goals. The results measured at the conclusion of the study were largely positive and confirmed our thoughts on pharmacy automation. We proceeded with automation as our concerns regarding workflow inefficiencies were clearly identified.
"The Rowa has allowed us to reclaim the role of pharmacists and perform our job really well, engaging more fully with our patients."
Which automation system was chosen and why?
Walid: We considered various other automation partners. There were challenges we faced in our pharmacy and we saw automation as an objective solution. With the Rowa, everything was genuinely automatic, including the stocktaking mechanism which automatically converts the data and uploads in the cells. The cells are confidently 100% accurate. Daily orders are received accurately — we’re not unstocking, understocking and missing sales to customers as we don’t have to respond. Our ordering process has reduced from hours per day to literally minutes.
The efficiencies gained by introducing automation have been dramatic. The other key element relates to medication picking, selecting multiple items at a time efficiently. They are small boxes so stock flow is critical — the Rowa can select two or three boxes at a time. Where a manual pick may take almost a minute, the Rowa has accurately picked in approximately 8 seconds, improving patient safety.
Considering your pharmacy in 2019, what have been the major gains and/or benefits following automation?
Walid: We purchased a Rowa to improve patient outcomes in gaining efficiencies. We had to make a number of decisions considering the capital cost of automation and impacts upon staffing levels. Rather than cut staff, we looked for means that we could use our staff to provide better patient outcomes. We elected staff engagement to seek in providing an enhanced customer service experience and better health outcomes.
The outcomes have been incredible, perhaps the most important being the increased strength of our business to levels not seen over the past 20 years. Being able to achieve this milestone is a realisation of a vision well ahead of schedule. The Rowa has allowed us to reclaim the role of pharmacists and perform our job really well, engaging more fully with our patients. Previously, we were stock takers and packers. Now, I can say with complete confidence that I’ve achieved the vision for my business and in doing so, provide better primary health outcomes for my customers.
What advice would you give to someone considering automation in their pharmacy?Walid: I think automation is certainly the way forward. Over the past 12 months, I can honestly say that I’ve been ecstatic with the results and efficiencies that we have achieved following automation. It has been tremendous for our pharmacy and certainly changed our lives. Our pharmacists are so much happier working in the pharmacy. You can have an incredibly busy day and not go home with your head still buzzing three hours after you’ve closed the pharmacy. We have not looked back. Not only would I advise my pharmacists, mates and colleagues to move ahead with automation, I’m leading by example and actually doing it myself in my other pharmacies.