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Technology levels playing field with big retailers. (Regional Chains).

NEW YORK -- One source of chains' success is sophisticated technology.

Initiatives ranging from automatic prescription refills and pharmacy robotics to digital photoprocessing, data warehousing and enhanced web sites are boosting business at FamilyMeds Group Inc., May's Drug Stores, Farmacias El Amal and other retailers.

In November FamilyMeds launched a program to let customers have prescriptions predictively refilled. With Reliable Refill prescriptions can be picked up at the drug chain's outlets or delivered to patients' homes.

"Customer service is our top priority," comments Ed Mercadante, founder and chief executive officer of FamilyMeds. "Reliable Refill is an important step in enhancing the service we give our patients, with the added benefit of improving their health and wellness."

"We have leveraged our technology and created a unique systems application to identify the patients and prescriptions that would be best served by this program," senior vice president and chief technology officer Shafi Shilad adds. "There is a seamless integration between our retail pharmacy system and our central distribution system." The technology allows all customer service to be handled by the local pharmacist.

Patients can enroll in Reliable Refill as they order their first prescription. The program is widely expected to improve compliance, thereby improving health outcomes and reducing overall health care costs.

FamilyMeds' retail pharmacies are located predominantly in or near medical office buildings, medical clinics and hospitals. "Our pharmacists already work extremely closely with physicians because of the proximity of our pharmacies to their offices," notes senior vice president of sales and marketing Rees Pinney. "This program will only strengthen this relationship by helping patients comply with their physicians' therapeutic regimens."

FamilyMeds Direct, the company's Internet and mail-order pharmacy, has differentiated itself by forging relationships directly with managed care organizations. "We believe that our pharmacy services can decrease overall health care costs while adding customer convenience," Pinney explains. "Increased compliance leads to better health outcomes for the members of HMOs."

For its part, May's announced last year that its new Drug Warehouse store in Sand Springs, Okla., features "the most technologically advanced work space of any pharmacy operation in the state."

Anchored by a three-pharmacist work team and nine technicians, the pharmacy utilizes a ScriptPro robotic dispensing system that fills, labels and identifies prescriptions for the pharmacist's review prior to final packaging. In addition, a separate filling station handles the dual-lane drive-through window to serve customers who drop off or pick up their prescriptions by car.

"We've totally enhanced our work-flow model to deal with the needs of our customers, from consultations to helping find over-the-counter medications. Our system design maximizes accuracy, speed and the need to get the patients back on the road to good health," pharmacy manager Thomas Dunagan comments.

The technology and efficiency will allow pharmacists more time to spend with patients, assuring that they understand their medication regimen, possible side effects and the need to use their prescription just as the doctor ordered, he notes.

The new Sand Springs store also features a high-speed digital Fuji Frontier one-hour photo lab. Besides providing prints for 35mm or APS cameras, the digital lab allows computer users to put their film on discs or CDs, make any size color, black-and- white or sepia prints from CD, or make 50-year archive prints from their digital camera memory boards. The lab can also produce photo Christmas cards, team/individual combo prints and a variety of specialty work based on the needs of the photographer.

Meanwhile, Farmacias El Amal is reaping the fruits of a two-year-old data warehouse project. The Puerto Rican chain has had point-of-sale scanning data for some time, but had never collected it into an enterprisewide data warehouse, explains E-business director Sultan Yassin.

The warehousing and integration of data is paying off on several fronts, he notes. One example provided by Yassin is El Amal's chainwide rollout of push replacement programs to reduce out-of-stocks.

In another technology initiative the retailer is enhancing its web site to include more health-related content. The site offers next-day delivery on front-end merchandise and prescription refills for a flat shipping rate. Yassin says the site is distinguished by its real-time ties to the chain's bank processor, inventory systems and shipping partner. That fosters a high service level, he notes, by ensuring that ordered goods are in stock and that credit card charges clear.
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Title Annotation:drug stores; technology application
Comment:Technology levels playing field with big retailers. (Regional Chains).(drug stores; technology application)
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 4, 2002
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