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Safety, Speed and Security: How Automation Boosts Throughput and Accuracy for Pharmaceutical Shippers

Retailers know the world of ecommerce is cutthroat and highly competitive. Online, a company’s reputation is only as good as its last delivery, and even a small error in service can quickly erode brand loyalty and retention. Still, the stakes are much higher for prescription drug providers, including pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). In the US, PBMs are third-party administrators of prescription drug programs for commercial health plans, self-insured employer plans, Medicare Part D plans, and government employee plans.

Their customers’ health and well-being often depend on accurate, on-time orders.

For patients, the benefits of using PBMs are clear. According to research compiled by the  Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, home delivery of medications will save consumers, employers and other payers $59.6 billion over 10 years, mostly due to PBMs’ large purchasing power and ability to negotiate lower prices.

With patient safety always top of mind, PBMs need a reliable way to process orders quickly while ensuring that each patient gets the right medication, doctor’s instructions and product literature every time.

That’s why many PBMs and other prescription drug providers have begun to automate their order fulfillment, including their packaging solutions.

Automating Pharma Fulfillment

“Pharmaceutical suppliers engaged in ecommerce want to make sure they’ve got the best security and validation procedures in place,” says Tom Ptak, Vice President of Sales for Pregis’ Sharp Packaging Systems brand. “They also want to save time and money by shipping more efficiently. Automation helps them achieve both of these objectives.”

Integrated into pill-dispensing and conveyance systems, automated poly-bagging machines are one way to consistently boost throughput without sacrificing patient safety. Most equipment options can be used in either semi- or fully automated applications, and in either direct-to-consumer or omnichannel models, in which orders are shipped to brick-and-mortar pharmacies to be picked up by patients.

Typically, workers scan a bottle of pills and then drop it into a bag, along with the medical literature and invoice, and the machine will seal the bag and carry it away to the facility’s sortation system. The address label is printed on each bag immediately before it is loaded by a worker. Because there are no other bags in the queue, the no risk of a worker placing a prescription in the wrong bag is reduced significantly. Since workers do not have to spend time printing address labels, affixing them to bags and sealing them, throughput is dramatically increased.

According to Ptak, poly bag automation not only reduces the likelihood of human error, it streamlines fulfillment labor requirements. “Each of our Sharp Packaging machines can do the work of four to five people sitting at a table or a workstation, loading packages by hand. Plus, there’s no need for the additional staff usually required for validation. For many distribution centers, that’s a savings of up to four to six pharmacists for every 12 to 13 workers on the line.”

Poly-bagging machines are ideal for PBMs because the lightweight, recyclable bags reduce shipping costs and require no additional packaging materials such as void fill or paper labels. The high-density mailer film used for the non-branded bags not only deters theft during direct-to-consumer delivery, it ensures HIPPA compliance.

“Pregis high-density mailer bags are formulated specifically for the pharmaceuticals market,” notes Ptak. “They meet all HIPPA regulations and requirements. No one can see through them, identify which drug is inside or access sensitive patient medical information.”

Poly-bagging machines are ideal for PBMs because the lightweight, recyclable bags reduce shipping costs and require no additional packaging materials such as void fill or paper labels. The high-density mailer film used for the bags helps to deter theft during direct-to-consumer delivery.

More than a Machine

Ptak offers one last piece of advice: “Don’t just buy a machine. Make sure you identify a partner who is committed to your success.”

He continues, “since each of our customers’ applications are different, we tailor our machines to meet their unique demands. Plus, we're constantly working with our pharma customers to develop new solutions, dedicating internal engineering resources to provide the most cutting-edge systems in the market today.” 

For PBMs, the pressure to deliver is sure to remain high. But by upgrading their packaging solutions and partners, they can at least ensure improvements to their order fulfillment process are in the bag.    

To learn more about how Pregis supports the needs of the pharmaceutical industry, click here or download a case study that demonstrates just how much of an impact an automated solution can improve an operation’s productivity.