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Tech update: Is hub and spoke now accessible and affordable?

A number of smaller pharmacy groups are investing in hub and spoke technology and freeing up capacity for clinical services.

One of the first to embark on the hub and spoke journey was the Pearl Chemist Group based in South-West London. Hidden away in the basement of the group’s Tooting store is a state-of-the-art hub that is currently supporting all 20 pharmacies in the group. 

“We didn’t just invest in and implement all the technology we have overnight – we found scalable solutions that allowed us to grow the business so we could then take the next step on our technology journey,” says Mayank (Mike) Patel, managing director and superintendent pharmacist. 

“We quickly realised the more automation we adopted, the busier our branches became – and the more capacity we had to generate revenue through clinical and private services. On top of this, patients were better cared for by our clinical teams.” 

Impressive results

The results so far have been impressive, he says. 

  • An average reduction of 30 per cent in the time spent in-store on dispensing
  • An average reduction of 30 per cent in pharmacists’ time when carrying out accuracy checks in-store
  • Pharmacists now spend an average of 50 per cent more time with patients.

“In my experience, centralised dispensing facilities combined with technology are key to helping pharmacists cope with increased demand for medicines as a result of an ageing population. It enables us to spend more time on face-to-face patient care, improve the safety and efficiency of the pharmacy workflow, and to expand our business while making significant financial savings,” says Patel.

The hub in Tooting for original packs features an Omnicell robotic dispensing system (RDS) and Centred Solutions FLOWRx technology. (There is a separate hub down the road for MDS or dosette boxes.) FLOWRx Connect software acts as a bridge between the Proscript Connect PMR and the RDS. 

The software drives the RDS to pick items for up to 30 prescriptions at once and fast-moving lines are added manually by staff. The FLOWRx Hub automatic labelling unit then scans and labels the packs at a rate of 1,500 per hour, which are sorted into patient specific baskets on RFID LED smart shelves.

The shelves light up green when an order is complete and orange if the basket needs checking by a pharmacist or accuracy checking technician. For completed orders, an autobagger presents an open plastic bag with a patient label on it and the packs are individually scanned into the bag. The sealed bag is then scanned into the assigned pharmacy branch tote. 

“Centralised dispensing combined with technology are key to helping pharmacists cope with demand”

On arrival at the branches FLOWRx Instore software guides staff through the scanning, labelling and packing of any exception items before the item is coupled with the patient’s other medications from the hub to complete the order. Barcode scanning and RFID technology ensures there are checks throughout the entire dispensing process from the hub through to the spoke. 

“Community pharmacy owners and staff have been under relentless pressure for the last two years. To not just succeed, but to thrive, it is becoming increasingly important to understand and embrace the technology available. In my experience, there are affordable and viable technical solutions out there accessible for all pharmacies, regardless of size,” says Patel.

Affordable and scalable 

He isn’t alone in drawing this conclusion. Paydens Pharmacy and Medipharmacy have already implemented fully automated FLOWRx solutions and AR Pharmacy will be doing the same later this year. Manual versions of the FLOWRx Hub (using the shelves and software but not the automatic labelling unit) are in the process of being rolled out at Peak Pharmacy Group, Laly’s Pharmacy and Sigcare. 

“Despite statements to the contrary in the hub and spoke impact assessment earlier this year, affordable hub and spoke technology and business models do exist for all pharmacies, allowing for a higher degree of competition and greater share of benefits for spoke pharmacies,” says Centred Solutions managing director, Paul O’Hanlon.

“The beauty of our solution is that it is scalable so customers can implement it in stages at a relatively low cost. Taking the first step on the journey is enough to impact and grow your business, freeing up capital to then invest in the next level of automation. There are options out there to suit everyone that will allow pharmacies to automate dispensing and operate more efficiently.” 

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