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VOL. 126 | NO. 15 | Monday, January 24, 2011


Memphis-Based Remote Prescription Service Aids Small Hospitals

By Aisling Maki

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Challenged by size, location and a national shortage of pharmacists, many rural hospitals often find themselves unable to administer new prescriptions to patients overnight, when their internal pharmacies shut down.

Glenn Etow, president and COO, Walker Upshaw, chief development officer, and CEO Don Nickleson lead the local company. (Photo: Courtesy of CPS)

But Memphis-based Comprehensive Pharmacy Services offers a remedy in the form of Rx RemoteSolutions, the company’s remote prescription approval and order entry division that provides pharmacy services anytime to hospitals and health care facilities.

“The offering is for any hospital that doesn’t have a pharmacy operation that’s 24-7,” said CPS president and CEO Don Nickleson. “A lot of rural hospitals have difficulty having a 24-7 pharmacy. Even in the bigger cities, there are small hospitals that don’t have a 24-7 pharmacy operation and larger hospitals that want backup. But the primary target and benefit that this provides is most valuable to a small hospital.”

In late 2009, Comprehensive Pharmacy Services, the world’s largest pharmacy management company with headquarters at 6409 Quail Hollow Road in Memphis, acquired RxKnights, Inc., a successful remote pharmacy business based in Naperville, Ill.

It was founded by former CPS employees.

“We were developing a product ourselves when we found out these guys had gotten into business, and the software package they developed was very much like what we wanted to create,” said Nickleson of the company that was rebranded by CPS as Rx RemoteSolutions.

“It got us into the market quicker and allowed us to grow the business quicker by acquiring.”

Nickleson said that although the remote pharmacy concept first took hold several years ago, up until now it has remained something of a cottage industry.

“It’s been one pharmacist sitting in his house with a remote terminal to one hospital, waking up when a script comes in and entering the order,” he said. “It paints a picture for you. The guy could literally be asleep in his bed when a fax machine wakes him up. He sits up on the edge of his bed, logs in to the hospital system and approves the script. From our perspective, that’s not safe.

“What differentiates us is that we have a call center that’s manned and supervised by pharmacists. It’s their full-time job, and our technology allows us to keep track of all the rules and policies of each hospital.”

Although Rx RemoteSolutions now has clients in 30 states, none are local due to differences in state regulations.

But Nickleson said he hopes to bring the service to the region within the next six months.

“Tennessee is top of our list because the pharmacy state association here has been trying to find a way to provide something to the small rural hospitals across the state for a number of years,” he said. “States like Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi have a lot more rural hospitals than large metropolitan hospitals. They’re prime markets for us.”

Nickleson said using the service is more cost-efficient than hiring an additional staff pharmacist because the service can be activated when needed, such as on sick days or during staff vacations.

He also said the remote service improves the quality of life for physicians and nurses.

“We’ve developed proprietary software that can interface with all of our clients’ internal systems, so even though the pharmacists are sitting in our call center, it’s just like they’re sitting in the department in the hospital,” said Nickleson. “When the doctor writes the script, it’s scanned and transmitted to us. Our pharmacists look at it just like they would in the hospital, review the patient profile for allergies and drug conflicts, and then they enter the script and approve it, which releases that automated cabinet in the hospital for the nurse to pull the drug out.”

Walker Upshaw, CPS chief development officer, said the remote service is also attractive to hospital staff pharmacists.

“Their quality of life is that much better, especially if it’s a small pharmacy with one or two pharmacists who have to be on call the majority of the time,” said Upshaw. “The service is turned on, and they’re not getting calls two or three times a night. It also gives them backup during the day if someone gets sick or takes vacation. Because of the demand for pharmacists, they can choose to live and work where they want. These smaller hospitals want to do what they can to make sure they retain their staff pharmacists.”

CPS has more than 300 client facilities and more than 1,600 professional pharmacy employees in 46 states, Washington, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The company manages the operations of hospital pharmacies from A to Z, providing staff, staff education, purchasing, quality and safety control and compliance.

CPS, which hires about 40 pharmacists each month and is growing by about 35 new clients annually, is currently eyeing global expansion that includes a project to expand operations into China.

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