6 Ways Automating Pharmacy Workflow Can Save a Hospital Money and Improve Quality

For some hospital CFOs, pharmacies are seen as an area that stands to benefit from several efficiency measures. For example, computerized physician order entry systems have been or are in the process of being implemented throughout numerous hospitals across the country. CPOE has improved some deficiencies between physicians and a hospital's pharmacy: Physicians are able to directly enter prescription information to the pharmacy staff, and pharmacy staff members do not have to try to interpret a physician's penmanship.

Dave Murray, controller at South Jersey Healthcare in Vineland, N.J., says pharmacies can be automated even more to save hospitals money. Recently, SJH installed the Omnicell G4 platform at its hospitals to automate the distribution of prescription drugs within the pharmacy workflow, and the health system has already improved quality measures in addition to improving its bottom line. Here, Mr. Murray outlines six ways automation in the hospital pharmacy's drug delivery can advance a health system.

1. Increased pharmacy inventory turns. Mr. Murray says the average pharmacy inventory turn, which is the ratio that shows how many times a hospital's pharmaceutical inventory has been sold and replaced over a year, is 12 to 15 turns. Since automating the pharmacy workflow, he said the health system is running 28 turns. "Instead of having one full month's worth of pharmaceuticals sitting on our shelves, we now have a week and a half to two weeks worth," he says.

2. Reduced drug costs. Because SJH has been able to turn its inventory around so quickly, Mr. Murray says it is now paying less for any given order because their supply orders were cut in half. "Our pharmacy budget was approaching 2.5 percent of our overall operating expenses, and with reduced inventory levels and more available space, South Jersey Hospital is able to take advantage of better pricing by purchasing drugs at year-end discounts, which has allowed us to reduce our overall pharmaceutical costs," Mr. Murray says.

3. Increased workload without extra pharmacy hires. At first glance, the increased turnover in pharmacy inventory may seem like a challenge that will require more staff help. However, Mr. Murray says the automation allows for the same number of people to be on the salary rolls, but productivity for each person has gone up. Previously, nurses would enter codes into the keypad and would wait to pull several different patients' pharmaceuticals at once to limit the number of times at the console. Now, staff members only need to swipe their fingerprint in the unit, which saves time, and the unit will dispense the pharmaceutical that is needed for that particular patient. The time that used to be spent waiting at the console is now being directed to helping out more patients, Mr. Murray says.

However, installing the new technology did not come without hiccups. Mr. Murrays adds that investing in new technology to make a hospital's operations run smoother requires more than just money. "We had nurses that were used to doing the [old] process for many years," he says. "With us changing equipment, we had to retrain the nurses. It's just a little bit of a learning curve."

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4. Fewer missed doses.
As mentioned earlier, nurses used to multitask and manage several different patients' pharmaceuticals at once, and this could've resulted in giving a patient an incorrect prescription — a "never event" that could have hurt the patient and the hospital, Mr. Murray says. "It greatly reduces giving the wrong prescription to the wrong patient, and with government payors looking so closely at quality, that would've hampered our revenue stream," he adds.

5. Increased patient satisfaction. By making the prescription drug process faster and more automated, Mr. Murray says nurses are able to spend more time with patients, which has increased patient satisfaction.

6. Reinvestment of saved drug costs to other areas. Because the hospital system was able to save costs on prescription drugs, it was able to reinvest the saved money to enhance other areas of the hospital. For example, Mr. Murray said savings from switching to a new platform were allocated toward new software programs to improve the pharmacy even more. The software program includes specific bar codes on patients' wristbands, which a nurse can scan to make sure the patient is receiving the right prescriptions. "All of a sudden, we had dollars we could reinvest instead of cutting other programs," Mr. Murray said. "It gave us a little more flexibility."

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