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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : March 2005
pharmacy cash management and meets the requirements of customers, but it comes at a cost. Bank fees and phone lines can add up to a significant monthly amount, even with the benefit of the spe- cial pricing negotiated by the Guild. And at busy times, that 20 second delay (possi- bly compounded by a redial) can really slow down customer service. The monthly cost of EFT to an average pharmacy approaches $1,000—not a trivial cost. Most current pharmacy EFTPOS termi- nals are not integrated with the point-of- sale system, meaning a rekeying of the transaction detail into the EFT terminal. This further adds to the time it takes to serve a customer and adds another rec- onciliation task. So, a great step forward but still with a way to go. Point of sale While the majority of pharmacies now use electronic point-of-sale (POS) systems, cash registers are still in evidence. Cash registers do not integrate with dis- pensing systems, resulting in multiple entries of dispensed products data into the cash register. This is a time-consuming process with potential for errors. Cash reg- isters also cannot provide the data storage and analysis capability of POS, therefore leaving you without the ability to study per- formance and trends within your business. There is a wide variety of POS systems in use, ranging from early models with limited functionality and support, to the current state-of-the-art systems which allow for multi-store remote manage- ment, linking to suppliers and full inte- gration with suitable dispense systems. A modern POS system is a valuable invest- ment in the effective business manage- ment of all pharmacies . Dispensing systems Dispensing systems now used in phar- macy range from very old DOS-based soft- ware, running on early model PCs, to cur- rent state-of-the-art, Windows-based systems with far superior functionality. While older systems still do the basic job of enabling a script to be filled, they are a dying breed. These older operating sys- tems, while stable, are no longer sup- ported nor updated. The hardware is slow and uneconomic to repair when it fails, nor can they be fully interfaced to current POS systems. And support agreements are no longer available from the original soft- ware supplier. These older systems cannot be linked to the HIC for PBS Online, denying their users the cash flow benefits of this new HIC payments process. Newer systems will allow pharmacists to better understand their patient’s needs and actively market to them, whether it’s an overdue repeat or advising a new mother of a baby clinic day. This all helps to build customer service and loyalty with- out great effort. POS/Dispense system interfacing The majority of pharmacies have a mis- match between their POS and dispense systems. These systems usually either come from different suppliers, or have been bought at different times, and reflect different versions of a supplier’s offerings. Either way, the data interface between POS and Dispense is usually far from perfect. Product ordering Pharmacy suppliers have for years been try- ing methods of improving their ordering process with pharmacies. And pharmacists have been dealing with the challenges of price look-ups, invoice look-ups and prod- uct availability. Getting through a switch- board queue is frustrating and wasteful. The variety of methods now used are costly, particularly the telephone method which is time consuming for both the pharmacy and the vendor. Faxing orders is also cumbersome and subject to legibil- ity and transcription problems. Portable Data Entry units are a leap forward, ensuring greater accuracy of products ordered while allowing selectivity in the volume required. Linking to suppliers through a POS sys- tem is the simplest solution and the methodology for online links has improved significantly recently. PBS claiming With PBS Online starting its roll out, the barrier will be the current high level of older dispensing systems within phar- macy. This new HIC claiming system replaces the archaic diskette system which involves considerable angst and over- heads to both parties. PBS Online presents pharmacists with a considerable upside with automatic lodge- ment and faster reimbursements; and con- siderable cost containment result for the HIC as well. So it’s worth being involved but you will need a reasonably current computer system to gain the benefits. A future within reach now So where to from here? While the infor- mation management tools listed above have helped to remodel the business and professional aspects of pharmacy, they are still operated as independent ‘islands’, with little or no connectivity to enable more sophisticated data sharing and min- ing techniques, either within the individ- ual pharmacy or with external suppliers and commercial partners. An obvious goal is to link the capabili- ties of pharmacy’s network of nearly 5,000 community pharmacies onto a sin- gle information management platform. Conceptually, this could deliver time and cost efficiency benefits by improving the useability of internal information man- agement tools, while also connecting the individual pharmacy to external suppliers and commercial partners. Previous attempts to develop an over- arching information management plat- form for community pharmacy have failed, mainly due to a belief that the tech- nology wasn’t quite up to scratch at the time. However, one plan has been resur- rected and is gaining a foothold of indus- try interest. Instead of using the World Wide Web as the ‘holder’ of such an information management platform, which is the basis for a number of other similar current pro- jects for enabling connectivity within healthcare, the proposal recommends use of a virtual private network (VPN) as an information portal (IP). This approach has THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.86 MARCH 2005 ? 197