Healthcare News & Insights

2018 planning: Running your pharmacy like a business

As the end of 2017 draws closer, many healthcare executives may find themselves reflecting on the year that was – what worked, what challenges remain and which areas of the organization could use improvement. In this guest post, Rick Burnett, COO of a company that provides pharmacy management, consulting and operations services, offers five tactics that’ll have your pharmacy running at peak performance levels by 2018.


Despite the industry continuing to operate in a state of flux with uncertainty surrounding the Affordable Care Act and the ever-changing regulatory environment, one abiding constant is the pressure on hospitals to remain profitable, despite their own escalating healthcare costs.

Balancing the hospital’s bottom line while delivering quality patient care can seem an overwhelming task, but there’s one area of the organization that’s well-positioned to help identify cost-saving opportunities, boost overall revenue and improve patient outcomes: the pharmacy.

Hospital pharmacies can play a significant role in the overall success of the organization, but this area of health care is seldom viewed through a business lens, resulting in missed opportunities to streamline processes, operate more cost-effectively and eliminate unnecessary expenses. Before the year is out, here are five tactics to explore with the pharmacy leadership team to ensure peak operational efficiency heading into 2018, while still keeping patient care and safety a top priority.

  1. Be open to opportunities. New technologies and innovations can help improve the operational efficiency of a pharmacy, saving the organization time and money. Whether it’s updating automated dispensing technology or embracing telecare, take the time to investigate what is out there and available, particularly if it helps to reduce expenses and improve the bottom line.
  2. Be aware of future risks. Just like any other business, executives need to keep one eye on the future to assess potential risks, financial or otherwise. To avoid being blindsided, it’s critical that executives stay well-informed of upcoming changes to regulations or standards, particularly those that may require a significant capital investment. One particular area of note for the coming year involves upcoming changes to USP 800 standards that may require hospitals to purchase new equipment for compounding cleanrooms in order to be compliant.
    In recent years, the quality of compounded drugs has been closely scrutinized, particularly after a New England pharmacy was found to be responsible for a serious meningitis outbreak in 2012 due to contaminated injections. Regulatory agencies have, for some time, been evaluating current practices for how products are being made in healthcare facilities and are expected to soon release updated regulations.
    While the new standards aren’t slated to go into effect until 2019, hospitals would do well to examine this update now to determine if and how it might affect their facilities, as adherence to the proposed new requirements could be quite costly and, without proper planning, could significantly impact the bottom line.
  3. Manage expenses. Understanding the financial performance of your pharmacy is an absolute necessity in today’s environment. Drug expenses, billing and labor costs are all areas that should be closely monitored to identify what’s working and where savings can be found without impacting patient safety. Pay particular attention to purchasing practices and inventory management to anticipate drug shortages or reduce excessive stock. Investigate more cost-effective therapies that could save the business money, as well as enhance patient safety, and review staffing levels, noting where adjustments can be made to avoid expensive overtime costs.
  4. Protect against cyber security attacks. A pharmacy, just like any other business, can be vulnerable to cyberattacks, as evidenced by the ransomware attack on U.K. hospitals this year. An attack could not only threaten to expose private patient data, it could lead to patient care being impacted and a tangible financial burden for the hospital. Each pharmacy must have disaster protocols in place, such as ensuring hard copy data can be accessed or having pharmacists manually handwrite medication labels. Regularly updating employees on potential risks, “phishing” emails and best practices will help to ensure the pharmacy and hospital are prepared in the event of a threat to cyber security.
  5. Seek an outsider’s perspective. Healthcare professionals can often be too busy to identify where efficiencies or improvements can be made in the day-to-day running of a pharmacy. Conversely, each individual staff member has his or her own assumptions on how things should be done or what has worked in the past, based on previous experiences and workplace environments. Whether it’s improving clinical processes, upgrading and modernizing how patient files are managed, or optimizing workflows, introducing fresh eyes to a situation could bring alternative solutions that not only save time and money, but can improve the overall performance of the pharmacy for staff and patients.

Rick Burnett, PharmD, FACHE, is the COO of CompleteRx and leads the day-to-day operations delivery for customers. With more than 25 years of experience in hospital pharmacy management, Rick has worked in a variety of sets from small rural hospitals to multisystem academic settings.

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