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Innovations in Pharmacy: How Tech is Revolutionizing the Drugstore

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For decades now, the drugstore has served as the most immediate and accessible outlet for healthcare, bridging the gap between the worlds of retail and medicine. Pharmacies deliver vital medications that improve the quality of life for countless patients, while over the counter remedies offer quick and easy relief for less severe conditions. In the US, drugstores have long incorporated other features as well. The modern incarnation serves as a kind of combination pharmacy and convenience store, frequently open 24 hours and offering all kinds of non-medical products in a quick and easy format, in addition to the usual inventory.

But these outlets are still squarely focused on their primary function: selling the best health and wellness products possible. Of course, pharmacists themselves occupy a unique space within retail operations. Heavily licensed and regulated, pharmacists deal with insurance companies and medical patients alike. Their concern is not sales, but care, yet they too benefit from innovations in pharmacy and are, like any part of a retail operations team, squarely focused on providing the best for their customers.

Recently developed innovations in pharmacy are helping these stores fight addiction, provide safer remedies, and even offer basic medical services, creating an increasingly flexible paradigm of healthcare that allows these stores to better serve their communities, as well as drive growth.

 

Electronic Prior Authorization

The world of prescription medication is, from the customer end, a somewhat complex system wherein doctors, pharmacists, and insurance companies all work together to manage care. While this is arguably necessary given the nature of the American healthcare system and the need for oversight to ensure that the right medications are correctly prescribed, it can also lead to complications, such as Prior Authorization or PA. Basically, some medications require documentation from providers before approval by insurance companies. This can be a time-consuming process, with the prescription being initially rejected and the customer charged a cash fee instead of the medicine being covered by insurance. The patient would then have to wait for approval from their insurer, extending their wait time.

Enter Electronic Prior Authorization (ePA). This solution allows providers to initiate the approval process and begin the dialogue with insurers, enabling them to significantly cut down on wait times for prescriptions. That saves time and effort for patients and pharmacists alike. Pharmacies have embraced these systems and are racing to implement ePA solutions in order to better serve their customers.

 

Opioid Crisis

It’s no secret that prescription opioid abuse has spread and increased in the last several years. It’s become a hot-button issue for voters and patients alike, who are looking to alleviate the terrible strain on their communities and get people healthy. This is obviously a complex epidemic, with has spread through many vectors. Unfortunately, it’s an undeniable fact that many cases of opioid addiction begin with ill-advised but legally obtained prescriptions.

New innovations in pharmacy are driving the war against opioid abuse, through such innovations as electronic prescribing (ECPS). Programs like New York’s I-STOP mandate that providers prescribe drugs electronically, thereby making it easier to track prescriptions and observe critical, potentially dangerous errors so that they can be stopped before harm is done to patients. Meanwhile, prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) put more power in the hands of pharmacists to protect their patients by looking up pertinent information. Even blockchain is making an appearance: IBM and the CDC are working on encrypted ledgers that are more secure, and better at tracking medical records. Tech like this means more safety for consumers, and more intuitive tools for pharmacists to use.

 

In-Store Clinics

CVS’s Minute Clinic has become a fixture in more and more of their stores. These small but flexible medical facilities offer services such as vaccines and consultations, allowing patients to walk in to their conveniently located corner drugstore and get some additional care. And it’s not just CVS: more and more retailers, from competing drugstores to big box outlets, are including clinics in their offering of services, and the numbers are growing.

Innovations in pharmacy have vastly improved the experience at retail clinics, which now offer virtual waiting rooms. These virtual rooms allow patients to check in and enter the queue through a kiosk, without having to speak to an administrator. They also use electronic medical record (EMR) software, again easing the administrative burden and making the provider’s job easier. Their smaller footprint makes it easier for these providers to integrate such solutions, which in turn has made them an increasingly appealing choice for patients. Clinics like these are not only driving innovation in the healthcare space, but they’re also demonstrating how retailers can expand, become more flexible, and remain essential in a changing marketplace

 

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