The case for automated dispensing

Buying expensive robotics could seem a counterintuitive way to boost profitability while increasing customer interactions but that is the promise of automated dispensing.

Could your pharmacy benefit from automated dispensing?

Purchasing an automated dispensing cabinet might seem like a somewhat impersonal solution to your pharmacy’s customer service problems; however, it may actually help you connect with your patients more than ever.

Pharmacy owner and technology consultant Robert Sztar said the cabinets can free up your staff to concentrate on delivering high-quality service – all while the dispenser is tackling the more robotic tasks.

‘The pharmacist has the capability to actually look after every need of that patient in their visit from one single point, as opposed to having to segment them through multiple touch points,’ Mr Sztar said.

The upfront costs

Gollmann International Sales and Project Manager Tobias Abromeit said one of their robots with an autoloader can be purchased for under $200,000.

With an average lifetime of more than 10 years, plus $1000 a month in service costs, this will cost roughly $320,000 over a decade. Breaking that down further, Mr Abromeit said it comes to about $9 per hour for a ‘colleague that manages your stock without any mistakes and is never on leave’. Meanwhile, Willach Pharmacy Solutions Managing Director John Koot said one of their automated systems can cost about $3000 per month over the first decade.

Calculating the benefits

Mr Koot said savings in costs and increases in revenue from higher script volumes, sales in other channels, and professional services can amount to $6000 per month.

He added that expected additional revenue over a five-year period can range from $250,000-$500,000, depending on your post-installation strategy.

Mr Abromeit said when you’re crunching the numbers, consider how much time you spend in the back office searching, fetching and controlling stock.

‘The reduced effort for physical labour, thanks to the robot, can be transferred into comprehensive consultation of customers by well-trained staff,’ Mr Abromeit said.

He added that automatic dispensers can also reduce missing or expired goods write-offs and cut down the time you spend searching for qualified staff.

Other factors

So how do you know if an automated dispensing cabinet is the right fit for your pharmacy?

Mr Abromeit said that compared with traditional shelving, an automated dispenser system generally offers more storage space, adding that all dimensions can be customised to individual stores.

Mr Koot added that benefits can also be achieved with a redesign of the dispensary and retail optimisation.

‘By increasing retail floor space, pharmacies can increase revenue by around $5000 per m2 due to increased dispensary space efficiencies,’ he said.

Final considerations

It’s worth noting that purchasing an automated dispenser isn’t totally without its risks.

For example, one supplier, Dose Innovations, went into administration in January, so it’s important to pick a provider that you’re confident will be around to service the machine for at least the next 10 years.

Also, make sure that the provider will service the machine in a timely manner if it breaks down.

‘You’ve got to make the assumption that something will go wrong at some point,’ said Mr Sztar, author of the book, magazine and podcast ‘Transpharmation’.

He added it will help if your pharmacy has a technologically literate person working a good portion of the time to limit the impact a breakdown would have on your pharmacy’s workload.

‘You don’t need a coder or a programmer,’ Mr Sztar said. ‘But you do need to make sure that you’ve got people who are there throughout the opening time of that pharmacy who are capable of interfacing with the support people.’

Using technology to compete against discount pharmacies

Pharmacist Robert Sztar: Scripts For You Somerville, Victoria

‘From the get go, two years ago, it’s been my wife and myself as just the two pharmacists.

Because when you don’t have a patient base to start with, you don’t have the cash flow to bring on a big team from the beginning.

That forced us to create a workflow that was not only scalable, but could be executed with the minimum of one pharmacist.

So our workflow has heavily depended on automation both through software and through the hardware of the automated dispensing machine that warehouses and picks our prescription products.

Also, when we began our practice, there were two very well-known discount pharmacies established nearby. So to differentiate ourselves we had to create a better experience, and not just by a few millimeters, but by a significant point that generated a ‘wow’ factor.

So do I think our business would be where it is now without the automated dispenser? Without a doubt no. I couldn’t imagine creating the customer experience we do without it.’

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