By Alecia Lashier, Director, Software Systems Engineering
With our introduction of RxCollect™ robotic prescription collation technology, we believe it’s important to educate the pharmacy industry on the difference between batch prescription processing and single piece flow in pharmacy fulfillment environments.
For many years, pharmacies have been successfully fulfilling patient’s orders using batch prescription processing, much like this:
- A patient enters the pharmacy and requests multiple prescriptions to be filled.
- A pharmacy technician places all of the patient’s prescriptions into a basket and the basket flows through each stage of the fulfillment process as a single batch.
- At filling, the technician fills all of the prescriptions in the patient’s basket before moving on to the next patient order.
- At verification, a pharmacist verifies all of the items in the patient’s order before moving the basket on to will call/patient pickup.
As pharmacy volumes have increased and demands for reduced staff and greater revenues have grown, alternate filling processes have gained popularity. One such process, single piece flow, is a process that has been successful in high-volume fulfillment operations. Single piece flow is the process of separating patient prescriptions after data entry, filling each Rx individually, possibly at separate stations, and then collating the prescriptions back into a single patient order prior to, during, or after packaging.
Both processes have their advantages. Batch prescription processing ensures that the patient order stays together throughout the entire fulfillment process. This enables a pharmacist to review the entire patient order in full after it’s filled and ensures every patient is serviced in the order that they arrive. Single piece flow, relying on the pre-filling verification, drug utilization review (DUR), and clinical screening performed prior to the start of the filling process, enables higher throughput and supports a greater order set variability.
As with any comparison, batch processing and single piece flow also have drawbacks. Batch processing slows down the overall fulfillment process for an order, increasing patient wait times in retail environments and increasing the queue time for an order in high-volume central fill or mail order fulfillment systems. Single piece flow allows for multiple orders to be in process simultaneously. As a result, the output of the orders is not always first in first out. In a retail environment, this may result in one patient receiving their order prior to another even though the second patient arrived at the pharmacy first. In a closed-door pharmacy (e.g., central fill or mail order), this has virtually no impact.
As we continue to look for ways to improve prescription-processing times and increase the use of manpower and automation, alternate prescription fulfillment processes should be evaluated. While there is comfort in processing patient orders in batches, the drawbacks of doing so may outweigh the benefits of alternate models, such as single piece flow.
Single piece flow has benefits in retail, central fill, and mail order prescription fulfillment environments. Waiting to start a second patient order until the previous patient order is complete causes idle processing time that is wasted throughout the fulfillment process. With single piece flow, this idle time is removed, enabling prescriptions to flow through the system in a consistent fashion. In a retail environment, this decreases wait times by removing the idle time encountered when one process is waiting on another process to complete, especially when larger patient orders are active in a given fulfillment area. In a central fill/mail order environment, the removal of this idle time enables additional processing to occur in the same given amount of time, increasing staff productivity and automation use and driving increased prescription throughput.
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