ORLANDO, Fla. -- Retailers continue to seek out technology solutions that can help them compensate for the ongoing pharmacist shortage and make their pharmacies more efficient, according to attendees at the Food Marketing Institute's 15th Annual Supermarket Pharmacy Conference here last week.
While prescription sales will balloon 40% by 2005, the number of new pharmacists coming into the work force is not projected to keep pace, said Ron Sims, conference chairman and president and chief operating officer, Marsh Drugs, Indianapolis, in the opening session. This growth gap has led supermarket pharmacy managers to look to technology to combat the omnipresent pharmacist shortage.
"I don't think we have a choice [in accepting new technologies]," said Doug Berry, vice president, pharmacy, Farmer Jack, Detroit. "Pharmacists aren't growing."
Jim Linden, director of pharmacy operations, Nash Finch, Minneapolis, told SN he was interested in learning about robotics, as well as rolling out more interactive voice-response systems in stores. Nash Finch currently uses IVR in about seven of its 44 pharmacies.
"We're looking at anything to lighten the pharmacists' workload," he said. "Labor is a critical issue."
Roberta Armstrong, director of pharmacy, Felpausch Hometown Pharmacies, Albion, Mich., also said she wanted to obtain more information on IVR systems to maintain competitiveness in the marketplace and decrease pharmacists' distractions and interruptions.
Other retailers wanted education on e-prescribing, which they said would save time and reduce errors.
Michele Snider, director, pharmacy, Save Mart Supermarkets, Modesto, Calif., said that in addition to reducing errors, e-prescribing "saves time and labor, adds volume without added labor and decreases frustration."
Jack Guinan, executive vice president, prescription services, ProxyMed, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., provider of health care electronic data-interchange services, said supermarket pharmacies are a major factor in helping e-prescribing reach critical mass.
"Supermarkets will make the difference in opening new markets," he said.
Retailers like Curtis Hartin, director, professional services, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, wanted to learn updated information about Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act privacy regulations, which require pharmacists to obtain written consent before filling patient prescriptions, a major headache to retailers.
"It's the single most critical issue right now," he said. "It's an expensive issue, and it's one that's not going to go away."
Another topic at the conference was pharmacists' role in bioterror response.
Retailers listened to a presentation given by members of the American Pharmaceutical Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama Department of Public Health on ways pharmacists can get involved. Among topics discussed was the National Stockpile Program, which maintains a national repository of life-saving pharmaceuticals and medical material that will be delivered to the site of chemical or biological terrorism.
"The impact of Sept. 11 wreaked havoc and impacted so many lives," said Ron Sims. "Pharmacy should play a significant role in disaster response."
The presenters agreed that supermarket pharmacies could play important roles in disaster response because of their convenience to the public, the ability of their large parking lots to hold crowds and the capacity to provide mass counseling.
"Bioterror will always be in the back of our minds going forward," said Don Clark, divisional vice president, pharmacy, Spartan Stores, Hudsonville, Mich.