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    NONFOODS: Pharmacy Tech: The script for satisfaction

    Automation is the Rx for the pharmacy customer experience.

    Pharmacy customers want to spend less time on lines, and more time consulting with their pharmacists. But with a shortage of skilled pharmacy employees -- including the pharmacists themselves -- automation is the best way to address these needs, according to consumer research released earlier this year by health care research firm Wilson Health Information, LLC, based in New Hope, Pa.

    "At a time when pharmacies are busier than ever, customer expectations are also higher than ever," says Jim Wilson, president of Wilson Health Information. "Retailers are struggling with prescription volumes, staffing shortages, hours of operation, reimbursement changes, and wait times," he explains, "yet customers expect their prescriptions to be ready faster, they don't want to wait, and they want increased hours of service. As a result customers are reporting frustration with long wait times and limited pharmacy hours."

    Indeed, convenience is one of the top three drivers of pharmacy customer satisfaction, according to WilsonRx Survey Report, published by Wilson Health Information. Price and overall professional services are the other top drivers, respondents said. Researchers polled 33,000 pharmacy customers.

    Three out of five customers said they wait in line for five or more minutes to pick up their prescriptions, which, not surprisingly, sabotages the overall experience. In addition, over one-third of pharmacy customers said that they sometimes couldn't pick up or drop off their prescriptions when they wanted to because the pharmacy was closed.

    On the other hand, customers surveyed by WilsonRx gave high marks to pharmacies that deliver on their promises -- particularly when they have prescriptions ready when promised.

    That's where automation as a tool can -- and in some cases, already does -- play a role. Interactive voice response (IVR) phone systems are the most common type of automation in pharmacies, used by more than half of consumers for refills. However, the most common method patients use to fill new prescriptions is to take the script to the pharmacy and wait, followed by dropping off the script and returning for it later, according to the study.

    Phoning it in

    Patients expressed a growing interest in having their doctors phone in their prescriptions for later pickup. That method of having new scripts filled could grow as a solution, as more and more physicians link up with pharmacies electronically, via e-prescribing systems.

    Approximately one in three pharmacy customers indicates that their pharmacy was closed one or more times in the past year when they wanted to pick up or drop off prescriptions. These pharmacy customers say that having a prescription pickup kiosk available would increase their satisfaction, yet only 5 percent say that they've used prescription pickup or drop-off kiosks.

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