In a healthcare environment, where the elements of empathy and humanity are critical, how do Directors of Pharmacy look at the prospect of automation and the benefits it can offer their operations? Automating manual, repetitive tasks in most industries can be shown to increase speed, save time and reduce errors. In our experience with our hospital pharmacy customers, radio frequency identification (RFID) automation is no exception. Human error is eliminated and time is saved – which are reasons in and of themselves to pursue automation. But how does automation impact the value that pharmacy can provide?
Putting the benefits of error reduction aside for a moment, the idea of automation might cause some initial hesitance. After all, automating a task results in time savings, which might be construed as an opportunity to cut staff. However, what we have found is plainly the opposite. The hours returned to the pharmacy team as a result of automating mundane and repetitive tasks lead to further value creation.
Extending Pharmacy Team Value with RFID Automation
We were intrigued by a recent article in the Harvard Business Journal titled “How to Win with Automation (Hint: It’s Not Chasing Efficiency)” by Greg Satell. Mr. Satell states: “Once a task becomes automated, it also becomes largely commoditized. Value is then created on a higher level than when people were busy doing more basic things.”
In working with hospital and health system pharmacy customers, we have consistently seen that time saved as a result of RFID automation is actually time returned to the pharmacist and pharmacy staff for higher value activities. The same team members who were spending time manually counting and individually scanning medications are now using those hours saved to focus on patient care.
The article goes on to say: “Lynda Chin, who co-developed the Oncology Expert Advisor at MD Anderson powered by IBM’s Watson, believes that automating cognitive tasks in medicine can help physicians focus more on patients. “Instead of spending 12 minutes searching for information and three with the patient, imagine the doctor getting prepared in three minutes and spending 12 with the patient,” she says.”
Expanding Care to Better Serve Doctors and Patients – Case Study
The scenario that Ms. Chin refers to above is similar to what we see in the hospital pharmacy. RFID automation in the hospital pharmacy means that Pharmacy Technicians can spend more time on high value activities and Pharmacists can spend time working at the top of their license.
As an example, North York General Hospital implemented the Intelliguard® Kit and Tray Management System for replenishing OR and resuscitation trays. They gained numerous benefits (outlined in a detailed white paper) including nearly one-third of a full time employee’s work hours returned.
As noted in the white paper, “This time saving allowed the pharmacy to expand other services to the OR to enhance patient care.” Instead of replenishing anesthesia trays 3 times per week, they are now able to take care of these trays daily due to the efficiency gained from RFID automation and to customize the trays to better serve the OR staff and anesthesiologists. As noted in the video case study: “(prior to automation) It was very difficult for our technicians to actually change that tray and make sure that there were no errors. Now, with the RFID we can customize our trays and they can get more of a particular drug depending upon the surgery that they’re doing versus less.”
In addition, the benefits of time returned to the pharmacy from automation are not just better patient care, but increased staff satisfaction and morale. Reducing manual, repetitive workload empowers pharmacy staff to spend more time doing what they love – taking care of patients.
Benefits of Time Returned with Hospital Pharmacy RFID Automation
The time returned as a result of automating medication replenishment and kit and tray management at hospitals allows Pharmacy Directors to better take advantage of the talent on their teams and organize time around high value activities. Not only are doctors and patients better served, but the Pharmacy staff is better served by spending time on more high value, meaningful tasks and Pharmacy management can also focus on increased value creation. “So the first challenge for business leaders facing a new age of automation is not try to simply to cut costs,” Mr. Satell states, “but to identify the next big area of value creation.”
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