Business

Whidbey drugstore goes robotic

Silent helpers are now assisting pharmacists at Linds drug stores on Whidbey Island — robots that fill prescriptions.

Linds installed ScriptPro last month in its Coupeville pharmacy, and last summer the same type of robot was installed at its Freeland drug store.

Most customers probably aren’t aware ScriptPro is on the job.

“It’s filling 55 percent of all our prescriptions now,” said pharmacist Rod Stallman.

ScriptPro is a state-of-the-art, electronic and robotic prescription management system.

It is actually more accurate than a human counterpart in the repetitive task of counting out pills and capsules, Stallman said.

The robot handling the grunt work of prescription filling frees pharmacists for other tasks.

“It gives more time with people — to consult about the drugs they are taking or to talk about new products,” he said.

Here are a few basics about the process:

A technician types the doctor’s orders into the prescription management plan, software that integrates the system. ScriptPro “reads” the information and fills a vial with appropriate medication.

From the exterior, the device looks like a large storage unit with glass doors. Inside, a robotic “hand” carries the vial along shelves filled with up to 200 different plastic containers of pills and capsules until an infrared eye signals the right one. A tiny door opens and the meds start pouring into the vial.

“It’s really a counting machine,” Stallman said.

The filled vial travels along a conveyor belt and a label with the national drug bar code is attached. A pharmacist checks the code and the vial contents against images and data on a computer screen.

The prescription is checked a third time for accuracy before it is handed to the customer.

“We are interested in reducing errors and maximizing customer satisfaction,” he said.

ScripPro also offers cost savings from greater efficiency. As Medicare Part D, the prescription plan, goes into effect and with the increase in the number of older Americans, “it should take less people to grow from here,” he said.

Linds Pharmacies was founded in 1970 in Langley by Ron, a pharmacist, and Pam Lind. They later opened stores in Freeland and Coupeville. They formed a corporation and brought five key employees into the business. Rod and Kathy Stallman are part of the corporate ownership, and both are pharmacists. They manage the pharmacies in the three drug stores.

Ron Lind said plans call for expanding the Coupeville store in the next year or two. It will include the diversity of merchandise such as high-end gifts, toys, cards and sundries found in the Freeland store. The Langley store is different from the other two because it includes a fine jewelry section.

The Freeland store is the core of the trio as it is the electronic hub for the data base and the electronic inventory system. When items are rung up at the register, they are automatically deducted from inventory and put on the order list.

Recording inventory items passing through the checkstand scanner provides the additional benefit of illustrating shoplifting trouble spots in the store, Ron Lind said.

Another innovation is hiring two pharmacy assistants to assist Medicare and Medicaid recipients. Myrna Liddell and Sheila Kessler can help elderly people sort out the complexity of government plans and they are knowledgeable about medical products.

All of the improvements at Linds’ stores are geared toward customer service.

“We are trying to get better and better,” Stallman said.

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