Workload Balancing - Efficiency During COVID Administration and Beyond

Mitch Larson | December 11, 2020

 

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3-5 billion, a massive number, a massive range, and also the current number of vaccine doses produced globally every year according to Planet Money. While huge, this range is nowhere near the size of the world population. In fact, in order to effectively vaccinate the entire world population against COVID-19, the number of vaccines needed is triple our current production capacity. Not only is there a logistical challenge associated with distributing the vaccine, there is a challenge with administering the vaccine as well. The government is looking to pharmacists to meet this challenge through Operation Warp Speed, which is partnering with pharmacies across the U.S. to increase access to the vaccine, particularly in underserved areas.

Efficiency has always been important in healthcare, and the ability to work quickly and thoroughly without sacrificing the level of patient care is a must, regardless of what is going on in the world. Pharmacists have felt this pressure all along, but the pressure will only grow stronger in the coming months with COVID vaccine administration.

Workload balancing, or the distribution of tasks like remote verification across pharmacy locations, is one solution pharmacists can utilize to maximize efficiency (as you’ll see below), and has become crucial for survival in this heightened demand for pharmacists time and knowledge.

What are some of the major reasons to use workload balancing, and what benefits does it provide? Let’s walk through several:

Allow pharmacy operations to continue efficiently despite COVID vaccine administration

Pharmacists already struggle to make time to counsel their patients or administer immunizations at busy locations while still accurately verifying the constant prescription volume. Soon, as more vaccines are approved and distributed to pharmacies across the country, the pharmacist’s time is going to be more constrained than ever as the vaccination demand gets thrown on the already overwhelmingly full plates of pharmacists.

With workload balancing, the prescription verification process will be handled by the first available pharmacist using a cloud-based, smart-queue workflow wherein the prescription gets assigned to the first available pharmacist, regardless of their location. So if pharmacy A is inundated with patients waiting to get their immunizations, pharmacists at pharmacy B, C, or D will be handling the prescription verification while pharmacist A administers vaccines.

Maximize efficiency of pharmacy staff

Devin Trone, RPh and pharmacy owner in Idaho and Oregon, recently was interviewed by Drug Topics about his experience with workload balancing. He says that after using TelePharm to provide remote pharmacy services to one of his locations 50 miles away, he began realizing there were other ways to leverage the technology:

“It didn’t take us long to realize we could use the same telepharmacy system as part of our quality control workflow for all our prescriptions. We have four locations, so you know that some aren’t as busy as others. Instead of having scripts back up on the busier location, why not use telepharmacy to distribute the workflow? Putting all of our pharmacists in the cloud helps keep any one pharmacist from getting overloaded.”

For Devin and his staff, they didn’t need the COVID vaccine to kick them into gear and realize they could be utilizing their staff more effectively. They’ve been enjoying the benefits of this increased efficiency for some time now, and because of that, Devin and his staff are going to be more prepared than most for the impending inundation of vaccinations.

“We could easily add another 500 prescriptions a day without making our pharmacists work harder. We will be able to continue growth without over-taxing our staff.”

Enable your pharmacists to focus on patients

Another benefit Devin found when he shifted to this cloud-based workflow model was that he was then able to get a better understanding of how exactly his pharmacists are spending their time. 

“When we put our pharmacists in the cloud, we discovered that 40% to 50% of their time had been spent on mundane things like stuffing bags, stickering, applying labels. Working in the cloud helps them focus on pharmacist-only activities.”

Imagine having a pharmacy workforce in which each pharmacist is spending time performing value-added activities and conducting vital patient interactions, all while your prescriptions are verified and processed in an efficient manner, keeping patients happy and cared for. For instance, if you are able to spend 10 seconds less on each prescription through load balancing, and you fill 200 prescriptions a day, that accounts to an extra 30 minutes a day, or 3.5 hours per week. Throw in a couple MTM consults or some Point of Care Testing, and you start driving serious value!

Utilizing workload balancing is one simple solution that provides massive benefits across the whole pharmacy business. Between the satisfaction of patients, happiness of pharmacists who are able to practice at the top of their licenses, and of course the effect of this efficiency on the business’s bottom line, it’s a great way to utilize your existing pharmacy staff to its fullest potential.

Whether you want to implement workload balancing specifically for the coming vaccine rush, or like Devin Trone, see it as an opportunity to free up your pharmacists to focus on clinical tasks and ensure every location has proper verification coverage, dive in and explore whether workload balancing is right for your pharmacy.

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