Profitable Expansion with Remote Delivery Kiosks

As a federally qualified health center serving patients from 10 clinics over a 25-mile radius of southern Illinois, Shawnee Health Center Pharmacy needed a way to get prescriptions to patients near and far while keeping costs low.

“In 2016, we were looking for a way to extend the pharmacy in a cost-effective way,” said David Smiley, director of pharmacy services. The first thought was to expand to a second location, but the price added up quickly. Mail order helped some patients with access to medications, but with so many patients experiencing housing insecurity, it was difficult to reach people with 90-day supplies.

Then, Illinois revamped its telepharmacy laws, opening up a whole new set of options to increase pharmacy accessibility. “We started looking at some out-of-the-box, technology-based solutions, and we came across Asteres,” said Smiley. Asteres provides pharmacy kiosks and lockers called ScriptCenter that deliver patients specific prescriptions.

Shawnee Health Center Pharmacy has two ScriptCenter kiosks located inside clinics within their network. For Smiley’s team, the kiosks were a great fit because they allowed them to fill prescriptions within their traditional workflow and then deliver them securely to patients. “Everything gets bottled just like if they were going to pick it up at our pharmacy. The difference comes in with the packaging,” Smiley said. The prescriptions headed to ScriptCenter kiosks are packaged with a bar-coded bag or clamshell container. When they are placed inside the kiosk, it’s assigned a location within the machine.

“Once that’s done, everything is synced up with our records, and then the unit acts as an ATM for prescriptions,” Smiley said. Patients have a unique login, and they can choose which prescriptions they want to pick up that day.

Patients can also get counseling from the pharmacist when they come to pick up their prescription. The kiosk is open the same hours as the main pharmacy location, which ensures that patients can reach the pharmacist if they have questions about their medications.  Although Shawnee doesn’t utilize the service, Asteres offers an after-hours counseling option through a third party that allows clients to utilize the kiosks after the pharmacy has closed.

Getting started

Getting the ScriptCenter kiosk up and running was simple. “We were given specs so we would know what kind of utility connections and internet access we needed to have,” Smiley said. They had the location scouted to ensure everything was compatible, and then the Asteres team managed the delivery and installation process. Smiley estimates that the physical installation took about a day for each machine, but the Asteres staff members spent additional time on-site training staff and even interacting with patients.

The biggest challenge on the pharmacy end of implementation was finding a way to deal with the distance. “Our most remote kiosk is 25 miles away from our pharmacy, so we had to tailor our training to the needs of employees at both ends of the operation,” Smiley said. While the workflow of filling prescriptions stayed the same, pharmacy staff had to learn how to link ScriptCenter prescriptions to the pharmacy management system, perform video consultations, and come up with a system for physically delivering medications to the kiosks.

A different set of training tasks had to occur on-location with clinic staff. “That role is more patient-facing, and they would get lots of questions from patients in the waiting room, which is where the machine was located,” Smiley explained. “We spent a couple of hours doing hands-on training with our clinic staff to get them comfortable with the machine.” ScriptCenter also provided training modules to help employees get familiar with the technology.

Increasing adherence and access

Having staff members on-site was also helpful when introducing the ScriptCenter kiosks to patients. Though Smiley said that the ScriptCenter interface is relatively intuitive, some patients still need additional help getting started. “People who are less technical tend to need more assistance initially, but they tend to get the hang of it fairly quickly,” he said.

It also helps that most people are curious when they see the ScriptCenter kiosk for the first time. “The fact that there’s a big machine sitting in the room that they’ve never seen before makes people ask questions about what it is and how they can get set up to use it, and that helps with the patient training processes.”

Before Shawnee Health Center Pharmacy implemented its ScriptCenter kiosks, patients who lived far from the pharmacy had a tough choice to make. “Those that could afford it might have gone to another pharmacy, but if they couldn’t, they unfortunately went without,” said Smiley.

The ScriptCenter kiosks allowed the pharmacy to reach those patients more consistently and get prescriptions into their hands in a secure way. “For those patients who are most at risk, adherence has improved dramatically,” Smiley said. “They now have a reliable access point to receive their medications at a lower cost.”

Smiley added that for patients who have medical conditions with social stigmas attached, the ScriptCenter has provided much-desired privacy. “They aren’t always super comfortable interacting with the staff in a typical pharmacy setting, and they feel uneasy about picking up their medication,” he said. “We find these patients really like the ScriptCenter because although the counseling takes place in a common area, the telepharmacy video link allows a more private interaction that is one-step removed from traditional face-to-face counselling.” Patients can tailor counseling interactions to their own comfort level.

The kiosk has helped increase access for those who may experience a language barrier when visiting the central pharmacy location, as the machine can be programmed to run in English and Spanish.

Implementation tips

For pharmacies considering implementing remote kiosks, Smiley recommended having a clear idea of how the technology aligns with your current business model and pharmacy goals. “For us, the model was delivering low-cost prescriptions, but for a more traditional community pharmacy that’s operating as a for-profit entity, you have to look at that side of it,” he said.

He also brought up the limitations of the kiosk being so far removed from the main pharmacy location. “With us being 25 miles away from our farthest kiosk, it means we can’t immediately provide prescriptions at the kiosk. They can’t go into the clinic and get a prescription for an antibiotic and then pick it up in the waiting room on their way out the door,” he said. For Shawnee Health Center Pharmacy, the kiosks are perfect for routine medications that are picked up month after month.

It’s also critical for pharmacies to be aware of the telepharmacy laws in their state that can impact how the kiosk is used. There may be mileage restrictions or facility requirements that make it infeasible to use a kiosk.

Quick Expansion

With a pharmacy kiosk like ScriptCenter, you can expand your pharmacy without incurring hefty startup costs.

While Shawnee Health Center Pharmacy’s ScriptCenter kiosks are located within clinics that are part of their network, you don’t have to be a part of a health network to take advantage of prescription kiosks.

You could place your kiosk in locations like:

  • Corporate offices
  • Senior living facilities
  • Grocery stores
  • Community centers

As long as the kiosk is placed in a secure, indoor location, and it’s within the regulatory guidelines outlined by your state board of pharmacy, you’re good to go. Asteres can help you determine the specific regulatory requirements in your state.

From the Magazine

This article was published in our quarterly print magazine, which covers relevant topics in greater depth featuring leading experts in the industry. Subscribe to receive the quarterly print issue in your mailbox. All registered independent pharmacies in the U.S. are eligible to receive a free subscription.

More articles from the June 2022 issue:

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