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A Paperless Pharmacy: How It Benefits Pharmacy Staff and Patients

Kelsey Zaporowski

Updox Content Writer

Electronic prescribing has become more commonplace over the last several decades. While e-prescribing forms a basis for a paperless pharmacy, this is only one aspect of going paperless.  

Going paperless benefits both the healthcare provider and the pharmacy in many ways. Primarily, it reduces medical errors due to misinterpretation.  

Patients also experience far less delay and frustration and see an increase in helpful communication from their pharmacists. Pharmacies and healthcare providers alike also benefit from providing a better patient experience.  

In this article, learn the benefits of a paperless pharmacy for both pharmacy staff and patients. 

Get expert tips for going paperless in your organization. Once you see how accuracy is improved, and workflow is streamlined, you’ll want to adopt paperless pharmacy technology, too. 

What Is a Paperless Pharmacy?

A paperless pharmacy is on track to eliminate paper documentation. At a minimum, all prescriptions are handled digitally. Usually, the prescribing clinician or their staff enters the prescription on a computer at their office. 

They then send the prescription to the consumer pharmacy of the patient’s choice. They may also send it to an institutional pharmacy, like an HMO or hospital pharmacy in the building. 

In addition to digital prescriptions, a paperless pharmacy can take the technology in other directions. For example, patient prescribing information is traditionally distributed via a paper stapled to or slipped into the medication bag. 

These package inserts can be replaced with links or QR codes. The patient can then read the material online. Alternatively, they can follow the link to a video to learn how to take their medications. 

There are many reasons why paperless pharmacy operation is gaining momentum. Eliminating a dependency on paper methods offers tangible benefits to pharmacy staff, providers, and patients simultaneously.  

Some of the advantages this article will touch on include: 

  • Fewer medication errors due to misreading prescriptions 
  • Meshing with technological advancements in healthcare 
  • Improved communication between parties involved 
  • Streamlined pharmacy operation and staff efficiency 
  • Reduced paper waste that helps the environment 

FROM ONE OF OUR PARTNERS: Top 5 Ways to Improve Customer Service 

What Is the Evolution of Paperless Pharmacy Technology?

Paperless pharmacy technology goes hand-in-hand with the advent of electronic medical records (EMRs) in the early 21st century. Decades later came the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act in 2003, which gave paperless pharmacies an even bigger push. 

Since then, the number of paperless pharmacies has been increasing steadily. By 2023, the majority of US states had laws requiring electronic prescribing for certain drug categories, largely as a result of the opioid epidemic, as an attempt to curtail fraud and forgery (see more below). 

Most importantly, paperless pharmacies increase the accuracy of prescription data. This level of increased accuracy encompasses many incremental benefits to both pharmacies and their patients. 

How Does a Paperless Pharmacy Benefit the Pharmacy Staff?

The evolution of electronic health records (EHRs) has enabled providers across many locations and disciplines to provide consistent care, improving patient care and outcomes. The inclusion of pharmacies through e-prescribing helps track prescriptions digitally and ensures pharmacists have access to a complete picture of all medications a patient may be taking. This readily available data helps the pharmacist spot and prevent possible drug interactions.  

However, going digital has many other benefits, specifically for pharmacy staff. Here are some of the most important improvements: 

Streamlined Workflow Processes

Eliminating paper prescriptions enhances and simplifies pharmacy workflows. Prescriptions are entered and sent digitally within seconds, so there’s no need for a dedicated staff member to stand at the window taking paper forms. The prescription is already in the computer system and ready for the next steps, reducing time spent on the phone with prescribers to clarify dosing strengths or regimens. 

Another aspect of going paperless is the digital accessibility of medication information. When a question about a prescription arises, staff no longer have to manually sift through a mountain of paperwork. Drug information is searchable on the computer, directing the pharmacist to the exact information needed. That information can then be relayed to stations in the back for easy use by techs. 

Paperless pharmacies typically have workstation computer dashboards that allow staff to see at a glance how many prescriptions are pending in different areas, and prescriptions can be filled in the most expedient manner for maximum efficiency. 

E-fax is another option to reduce paperwork and simplify workflows. Even if a provider is using paper prescriptions, they can send them via a HIPAA-secure inbox, so that the pharmacy can remain paperless.  

Decreased Risk of Errors

We’ve mentioned this as the most obvious improvement of going paperless, but it’s worth delving into.  

Medication errors affect both patients and pharmacy staff. A pharmacy that makes a mistake in a prescription could be held liable for a patient’s resulting complications. Personal injury lawsuits due to pharmacy errors are not uncommon. 

Dispensing errors are figured to be roughly 1.6% worldwide, but in some instances, they have been found to be as high as 33.3%. 

From both patient care and risk management viewpoints, lowering those numbers should be a goal of every pharmacy. Paperless pharmacies have a significantly decreased risk of human error and are, therefore, a major step in accomplishing that. 

As mentioned above, there’s no need to transcribe paper prescriptions into the computer, which reduces the opportunity for errors. Further reduction of errors is achieved by at least one bar code scanning point. 

For instance, the prescription’s Universal Product Code (UPC) is scanned prior to packaging, ensuring the correct medication is given to the patient.  

The pharmacist can also verify a provider’s information electronically, and the pharmacy can set up an extra verification scan for special prescriptions that must be reviewed with the customer by the pharmacist, not a tech. 

Easy Updating of Pharmaceutical Labeling

Pharmaceutical labeling changes frequently based on new research and patient experiences. Pharmacies that tap into certain paperless labeling options enjoy easy access to data banks. One prime example is the gold standard: the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR). 

Digital interfaces give pharmacies instant access to updated labeling information, such as: 

  • Brand and generic options 
  • New indications and contraindications 
  • New formulations or compounding options 
  • Dosing changes 
  • Side effects and adverse events 
  • Drug interactions 
  • Ingredient changes 
  • Supply and manufacturing information 
  • Black box warnings 

Consistent updates reduce errors even further and let pharmacies update the information given to patients with the most current educational materials about their medications. 

Reduced Fraud

Paper prescriptions present an increased risk of fraud. There are known instances of people stealing prescription pads and forging prescriptions.  

Paperless prescriptions largely do away with this risk. It’s nearly impossible for outside entities to forge digital prescriptions. Staff are monitored by online audit trails that leave discrepancies open to discovery. 

Reduced fraud risk frees up staff time. They don’t have to worry that a prescription is forged, prompting time-consuming calls to ensure its legitimacy. 

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How Does a Paperless Pharmacy Benefit Patients?

Once they become accustomed to it, patients enjoy the many benefits of a paperless pharmacy. Pharmacies considering going paperless should share these pluses with patients: 

Ease of Use

First, they don’t need to tote around a slip of paper with their prescription and worry about losing it. This is advantageous for everyone, from busy young parents to seniors with cognitive and memory concerns. 

Digital prescribing also makes it easier for approved caretakers or family members to pick up prescriptions and go over information on the patient’s behalf.  

Prescribing information is submitted instantaneously. Patients don’t have to wait while the pharmacy calls the provider for necessary clarifications because they can’t decipher penmanship or question numbers that look too much alike.  

Patients who may not feel well to begin with don’t have to hang around the pharmacy for long either, which can also reduce concerns of illness transmission to staff and other patients. 

Convenient Refills and Reminders

When it’s time for a refill, the patient can either visit the pharmacy in person or call an automated line with their request. The number of refills permitted is entered into the pharmacy computer at the time the prescription is transmitted. 

Some paperless systems can send out automatic refill reminders via text message and/or email so they can plan accordingly. This enhances the patient experience and helps ensure they don’t miss important medications. 

Improved Safety

Perhaps the greatest benefit to patients is the additional safety measures of a paperless pharmacy.  

As previously mentioned, paperless prescriptions eliminate the need for pharmacy staff to interpret healthcare provider penmanship, reducing errors in the name and dose of the drug prescribed. Increased accuracy benefits patients in that they can rest assured they’re getting the correct medication and taking it as they should, reducing adverse reactions. 

With paperless pharmacies, prescription dosing information is also more standardized. For instance, the pharmacist or tech doesn’t have to wonder if the prescriber wrote a sometimes ambiguous abbreviation. Examples include “Q.D.” (once daily) versus “QID” (four times per day). 

Better Patient Education

Unfortunately, many patients toss their printed prescribing information right after receiving their medications, including manufacturer package inserts and flyers generated by the pharmacy. 

This has health implications, as these printouts contain vital information about: 

  • Dosing schedules 
  • Directions for use 
  • Tablet splitting 
  • Mechanism of action 
  • Adverse events 
  • Drug interactions 
  • Medication discontinuation 

Without reading this information, a patient could miss signs of an allergic reaction or side effects. Those might require their discontinuation of a drug. 

Another function of a paperless pharmacy is digital pharmaceutical package inserts. Offering digital access to medication information opens up a whole new world of patient education.  

Even if they read their attached medication information, many patients don’t retain it. Some patients may even find the very small print and long sheets overwhelming or impossible to read, discouraging them from understanding the information at all. 

Digital information sheets and videos offer viable solutions. Patients may understand and retain critical information better when they see a video or can view it in large print on a computer screen. They can also review it if they forget or a question arises. 

This can help with: 

  • Patient knowledge about why a medication was prescribed 
  • Preventing subtherapeutic dosing or overdosing 
  • Getting patients to take medications properly (e.g., with or without food) 
  • Increasing overall medication adherence 
  • Patient understanding of serious side effects or allergic reactions 
  • Knowing when to call the healthcare provider or discontinue a drug 

Video chat options can also help when patients have medication questions. Telehealth allows patients to reach out to their pharmacist when they have questions without having to stand in lines at the pharmacy. 

FROM ONE OF OUR PARTNERS: Strategies to Use that Improve the Patient Experience 

Top Tips for Successful Adoption of Paperless Systems

Are you thinking about becoming paperless at your pharmacy? Here are some expert tips you can incorporate as you adopt digital technology: 

  • Understand that paperless pharmacy isn’t a cure for all prescribing errors. Providers can still enter the wrong medication or select the wrong dose from a drop-down menu. Be sure to build in checks or protocols for this type of scenario. 
  • Prescribers and patients alike get frustrated when a medication is out of stock or allocated. Develop a system to immediately communicate with the prescriber if this is an issue. This way, the patient won’t make an unnecessary trip to the pharmacy. They can choose an alternative with their provider. 
  • Some prescriptions will still come into the pharmacy on paper for various reasons. You’ll need to have a way to handle them. Most pharmacies use a document scanner for these situations. They then shred the paperwork once it is no longer needed. 
  • Decide how you will handle a scenario like long-term internet interruption or a cyber intrusion like some healthcare systems have recently faced. Can you still go back to paper prescriptions if necessary? 
  • Every pharmacy is unique in its operation. The best way to adopt paperless technology is to go step-by-step through your workflow. Don’t forget to include elements like inventory, accounting, and third-party benefit coordination. They will all need to be integrated for a paperless system to work successfully. 

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About the Author

Kelsey Zaporowski

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