REFILL 2 BY: 12/01/03
Leading Mass Merchant Partners with Innovation to Develop PharmASSIST Symphony Software PHONE 607.798.9376
Throughout the mid to late 90’s, Costco faced many of the same challenges of the retail pharmacy industry at large: rising prescription volumes, increased workload in their pharmacies, and a shortage of pharmacists. Costco knew that to remain competitive it had to address these issues and as a result began exploring pharmacy automation technology to automate tasks performed by pharmacy staff.
Costco Wholesale is one of the leading Mass Merchants in the U.S. with close to 20 million members shopping at over 300 locations in 36 states nationwide. Costco is currently in the midst of rolling out PharmASSIST Enterprise Systems and Symphony Software across their higher volume pharmacies, bringing comprehensive workflow management, Rx tracking, and quality control to their prescription filling process.
Vic Curtis, Costco’s Vice President of Pharmacy, was tasked with exploring and proposing a pharmacy automation initiative. “The project was triggered because we were really feeling squeezed between the shortage of pharmacists in the marketplace and the growing Rx volumes in our pharmacies,” explains Curtis. “As Costco matured as a retail drug chain, we began experiencing problems related to high prescription volume and we were struggling to find answers for how to better manage and deal with them.”
Curtis and Fred Floyd, Costco’s Pharmacy Information Systems Director, began their research by evaluating automated dispensing systems.“We looked at automated counting first because that’s what caught our attention; when you think automation, you think counting.” Costco evaluated several manufacturers and types of systems, testing each as a “proof of concept.” “Innovation’s PharmASSIST system was the first system we installed. It went live in November 2000 in Issaquah,WA, the second busiest pharmacy in our chain in terms of Rx volume. It was comprised of an Enterprise System with 150 dispensers,” describes Curtis.
Costco’s Pharmacy Automation Initiative
Shortly thereafter Costco installed competing systems in other stores and began a head-tohead comparison. In each case, Curtis and Floyd oversaw the installation and training.“Our hands-on involvement with the systems was an invaluable learning experience,” comments Curtis.“We were a two-man team and we spent a lot of long hours critiquing these systems.” Upon gathering a few months worth of data and usability feedback from the stores, Costco’s view of the world changed. As Curtis puts it,“What we really wanted, once we knew better, was more than just counting, it was enhanced workflow.What triggered the idea was the workflow component of the PharmASSIST Enterprise System.Thus, our focus turned to targeting processes within the pharmacy that we could automate and that would be beneficial to our staff… this led to the development of our wish list.” According to Curtis,“We put out RFPs to several vendors with our wish list attached. Innovation not only addressed the list, they offered additional features above and beyond the functionality we had requested, and their pricing was right on.” As Craig Norman, who heads up the program’s training and logistics, sums it up,“The difference between Innovation and the other companies was the other companies said, “Here’s our system, you figure out how to make it work in your pharmacy.” Whereas, with Innovation, they said here’s the system we have so far. How can we design and change it to make it work in your pharmacy? A totally different approach and much more the way we think here at Costco… much more entrepreneurial. That’s the thrust of our company… so from that standpoint, it was a very good fit.”
The Wish List
Once Costco decided workflow was the area they most wanted to address, the first step was to identify the...