Pharmacy workflow—what’s yours?

Business Management folks love discussing LEAN and KANBAN among ways to ensure quality and inventory control in manufacturing. The overall gist to these concepts is to make things work efficiently, accurately, limit waste, and ensure safety to a manufacturing process. Thus, cost of goods for the consumer can be competitively priced.

So, lets take a minute and think out loud or on paper.

  • What is your pharmacy’s workflow?
  • What happens when your technician gets sidetracked by an insurance issue?
  • What happens when a prescription that should take 15 minutes to fill becomes a prescription that takes 1 hour to fill?

Typical pharmacy workflow is drop off — order entry — fill prescription — pharmacist verification — pickup. This flow becomes so routine that I believe pharmacists sometimes forget how important the “routine of pharmacy workflow” is vital to preventing medication errors.

Practicing pharmacists all understand how things can become sidetracked in the pharmacy fast. A prescriber phones in a new prescription, flu shots need to be given, there’s a patient consultation that needs to be completed, and oh by the way you still need to check prescriptions.

In most chain pharmacies you can stand the waiting room of the pharmacy and quickly pickup on pharmacy operations and how workflow is necessary to keep pace with prescription volume. But even if you’re a pharmacist working for a chain, are you able to realistically follow your company’s workflow for prescription verification or have you tweaked the workflow a bit to get through your day on the job? For the independent pharmacist managing or owning a pharmacy, is your workflow in place and if so is it on paper?

LEAN principles originated with Toyota’s production of cars, and much like Toyota the pharmacy needs to stay LEAN to prevent defects. Defects for Toyota equaled bad cars, defects in pharmacy mean medication errors.

And while ensuring appropriate workflow can’t eliminate all errors it sure can help ensure a level of confidence that if an error does occur during the course of the day, hopefully that error can be caught before the prescription leaves the pharmacy.

Pharmacy workflow is such a foundational concept, but the basis of workflow and operations management are often not discussed with routine during pharmacy school and often glossed over while on the job. Be a good coach to your technicians. Focus on foundational concepts. A good basketball coach has their players practice free throws. A good baseball coach makes sure their players catch the ball with two hands.

As a good pharmacist coach, you need to discuss workflow issues daily. Technicians need to understand their positions in the pharmacy and with time be able to rotate from drop off, pickup, order entry, and filling. Coaching up the principles of pharmacy workflow as it pertains to operations management helps to ensure that patients receive optimal pharmaceutical care while reducing dispensing errors.


Sam Blakemore is the Pharmacy Manager of Peds Rx Pharmacy Solutions. Connect with him via: LinkedIn

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