ADA, Okla. — Travis Freeze, Chickasaw Nation director of pharmacy, says safety and convenience were the Nation’s primary concerns in construction of its 32,000-square foot, automated drive-thru pharmacy.
Both features have proven to be critical assets in serving the pharmaceutical needs of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The automation is just amazing,” Freeze said, adding the system enhances both quality and safety. “It allows us to fill prescriptions at a level of quality and safety we’ve never had before. We love the new automation with the robotic arms that fill prescriptions.”
Each medication has its own dispenser and only that medication can be loaded in that dispenser through barcode-driven technology.
“As the pharmacist technician is filling those, we scan the barcode on the medication; we scan the automation and then it matches them up and locks it.”
Freeze said in this way each medication is sealed and separate; it never comes in contact with another medication and is never touched by human hands.
“During this time of being concerned about infectious diseases, these medications go from bottle to automation and out the door,” he said. “Photos are taken along the way so if we need to go back to see what was put in a bottle, we can do that at any time. It’s a great process.”
The two-story facility incorporates a mail distribution center which is an added convenience for those needing their medications quickly.
“We’re offering mail out of the pharmacy now,” Freeze said. “Before, it was across town in another building. We’re able to take prescriptions from patients’ primary care providers, fill the prescriptions, put them in mail packages and get them out the door all in the same building, usually within a couple of hours.”
Another recent change is the four-lane drive-thru service which formerly featured one access entrance to only three lanes.
“The design of the drive-thru is wide open. It’s four big lanes. You can pull through easily and can even pull through trucks with trailers in the last lane. They feature video and audio capability. Patients can see us and we can see them.”
Freeze said Mondays are the busiest days for prescriptions, with an average of 5,000 filled on that one day alone. As many as 100,000 prescriptions are filled each month.
Automating the prescription service has the additional benefit of allowing distribution of human resources to front line duties.
“This type of automation allows us to get our pharmacists out of the pharmacy to spend more face time with patients to talk with them about medications and to answer questions they may have, to work with healthcare providers if they have questions about medications.”
Another plus is the ability to service the pharmaceutical needs of other Chickasaw medical clinics.
“We were able to ramp up production immensely compared to the automation we had in the past,” Freeze said. “That’s what allows us to send a lot of items to the Ardmore, Tishomingo and Purcell pharmacies. We fill them and send them back with a courier who runs a route every day.”
The second story of the facility houses pharmacy clinical services, an anti-coagulation clinic, a lipid clinic, a hypertension clinic and a medication assisted therapy clinic. Due to the pandemic, virtual visits have taken center stage as a way of communicating with patients for these services.
“We’re doing a lot of virtual visits,” Freeze said. “Instead of bringing patients into the clinic and doing their labs here, we can just talk with them and do visits that way. It’s good that we had that technology to be able to see those patients, take care of them and meet their needs. I think patients really enjoy it.”
While closing the lobby is a social distance win-win for patients and employees, in-person face-to-face visits are still possible.
“Don’t hesitate to call us at the general number – 580-436-3980, or the Chickasaw Nation Medical Center pharmacy refill line – 580-421-4569. Call 580-222-2833 for refill needs in Ardmore; 405-527-4922 in Purcell; and 580-387-2725 in Tishomingo,” he said.