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Robotic dispensing system boosts pharmacy's efficiency

Medicap's machine counts tablets, fills them into bottles, prints and applies labels to the bottles, and then caps bottles with user-friendly closures.

Pharmacy challenges: Medicap Pharmacy in Chaffee, MO, fills an average of 275 prescriptions during its nine-hour day. Until last November, pharmacy technicians manually counted tablets and filled them into standard prescription bottles before capping them by hand and applying labels to the bottles. That was labor intensive, limited the pharmacy's capacity to fill more "scripts" without adding staff, and didn't provide pharmacists and technicians the time to provide customers with better service.

The remedies: O-I Prescription Products' 1-Clic prescription package and Parata's RDS (robotic dispensing system). The 1-Clic package consists of an amber-colored polypropylene bottle (also called a vial) and a white high-density polyethylene closure. O-I injection molds both components. The RDS is used for about 50% to 55% of the Chaffee pharmacy's prescriptions, virtually all its solid-dose products. The rest of the scripts either contain liquids or are sold in blister packs.

Competitive advantages: What differentiates the Parata machines from similar pharmacy dispensing equipment is that it also applies a cap to the bottle. "Because the Parata machine caps the vial, it has to have a [closure] with very close tolerances," says Kevin Teegarden, who along with his mother owns Medicap Pharmacy, an independently owned franchisee of St. Louis-based Medicine Shoppe Intl., which owns some 1,200 Medicap Pharmacies. "Through Parata's years of R&D, it found the O-I vial had closer standards than anything else," says Teegarden. Benefits of the Parata/O-I system include the following:

• Labor and customer service. Daily orders are accommodated more efficiently, and the RDS is capable of filling 500 scripts a day without adding personnel. Pharmacists and technicians can also pay more attention to customers and provide them with better service. "One of the things we didn't foresee was when Medicare part D kicked in on January 1," Teegarden recalls. "We spent many hours on the telephone during January. We didn't realize at that time how much the Parata was going to help out."

• Added efficiency. "The first day we put it into full production, it did 60 percent of the medications that day," says Teegarden. "It normally takes a technician one to three minutes to get a prescription ready. The Parata does it in normally less than 20 seconds, usually in about 13 to 15 seconds."

• Space savings. The pharmacy measures between 500 and 600 sq ft, and that includes all the shelving that holds drugs. The RDS has a compact 12-sq-ft footprint, measuring 26"Wx72"Lx77"H.

• Consumer-friendly container. Teegarden notes, "We started off using the 1-Clic out of necessity, but I wish I would have gone to it years ago. I don't think it takes a half a turn to unscrew the 1-Clic cap. It is so much easier for the elderly than other vials and caps."

Economics: Asked about the price of the new bottles and caps, Teegarden explains that through order quantities and the buying power of its franchise organization Medicine Shop International, bottles and caps are no more expensive and may even be a few pennies less than others.

On the equipment side, Teegarden says the RDS's retail starting price is $190,000, acknowledging that it's a substantial investment. He estimates that the RDS costs around $12 an hour to run. Looking toward the future, Teegarden predicts: "If we didn't have the Parata system, getting to 500 prescriptions a day would require two more techs and one more pharmacist. In our area, that's at least $50- to $60,000 a year for a technician; $100,000-plus for a pharmacist. So now we're prepared more for the future." [HCP]

-By Jim Butschli, Editor
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