Pharmacy can claim their stake with emerging technologies

As we welcome a new year, it is exciting to see all the changes headed our way. With all the movement around healthcare reform and technology, we in the pharmacy industry are quick to point out that this industry is years ahead of the rest of health care in terms of payment solutions and automated workflow. The rest of the industry is running to catch up — but right now the pharmacy industry is far from where we need to be to address critical factors in our industry. That said, there are tremendous opportunities that several companies are bringing forward with new technology that can truly revolutionize the delivery of health care. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable discussion with retailers and a handful of solution providers to discuss where the pharmacy industry is headed and the technology that will help retail pharmacies be successful, even with ratcheting of third-party margins and the world of $4 generics. 

Everyone at the technology roundtable envisioned pharmacy in 2012 as an exciting innovative industry.  How can your pharmacy stake its claim to the emerging technologies? Let’s look at some key areas.

What are some of the newest technologies and their key considerations?
I could give you a laundry list of new technologies in their infancy or on the horizon. Below are some that I think have high potential value to the pharmacy industry, not listed in order of importance because ultimately your pharmacy needs to determine what’s most important to you and your patients:

Patient interaction/communication

  • The key is how to engage the patient.
  • Communication needs to include the physician, pharmacy and patient collectively.
  • Utilizing existing network protocols, such as Network Management System (NMS), as well as moving to more innovative ideas, including launching video messages with Video Management Software (VMS).
  • Trigger communications with new QR codes, those obscure computer graphics that are popping up in everything from magazine ads to airport wall posters.
  • Voice recognition is an important way to communicate. New technology, including Apple’s Siri, is changing the way that we interact with the technology.
  • Keep in mind that 65% of people in the United States are still not using smart phones, but 95% of cell phones are capable of receiving text messages.

Social media

  • Fastest growing population on Facebook is women over 50 years old. Pharmacies can create communications and outreach programs specific to people within this demographic.
  • Social media allows patients to set goals and track results, create a fun experience and involve their social circle for reinforcement.

Patient compliance 

  • Mobile solutions can help remind patients to take or refill their medication and offer related education.
  • Pharmacists and/or patients can track ailments and health between physician visits (e.g., blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, prior conditions and health events), creating interesting medication therapy management (MTM) opportunities for pharmacies.
  • Healthcare tools communicate with patients to allow providers to ask important questions and enable interactive decisions based on information received, such as giving patients up-to-date information about their prescription prior to filing or after the prescription has been picked up.
  • QR codes on prescription bottles allow for personalized information beyond what can fit on a bottle and allows the source to easily change information tied to QR codes even after the prescription has been picked up (e.g., notice of drug recall, refill incentives or possible drug interactions based on medication prescribed since a drug was dispensed).

Clinical services

  • Medication therapy management — Given that patients are only 50% compliant with their medication directives, this is a key opportunity for pharmacies to be passionate about MTM.
  • Medication reconciliation enables healthcare providers to know what medications are dispensed.
  • New solutions are becoming available to improve tracking and submission for reimbursement.
  • Pharmacists can monitor compliance and consult with patients between physician visits (e.g., blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, prior conditions and health events).

How can your pharmacy stake one or more claims to new technologies?
First, pharmacies should make a “favorites list” of technologies they want to implement given available resources, ROI and patient value. Next, they should talk with their technology vendors to better understand what’s available and coming down the pike. Whatever new technologies your pharmacy chooses to implement needs to be integrated with your existing workflow and where possible, should enable you to leverage your technology investments. For example, all pharmacies have a way to submit claims in real-time to pharmacy payers. If your pharmacy wants to start administering vaccinations, ask your pharmacy network if you can use your pharmacy system to bill vaccinations to medical payers.  NCPDP is also a great resource and can help you understand how changes to the transaction standards will accommodate new technologies and market needs.

Emerging technologies can help make pharmacies more profitable, their operations more efficient and enable them to have a more active role in overall patient care.  Now is the time for pharmacies to evaluate, communicate and stake their claim.


Rick Sage is VP pharmacy strategies for Emdeon. He directs the company’s clinical pharmacy initiatives with a focus on developing programs, standards and partnerships to improve patient outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

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