PHILADELPHIA -- Giant Food has clicked with its electronic prescribing venture since its inception last year, said Russell Fair, vice president, pharmacy operations for the Landover, Md.-based retailer.
Giant Food, a division of Ahold USA, Chantilly, Va., began its electronic-prescribing initiative 16 months ago with InstantDx, Gaithersburg, Md., and DrFirst, Rockville, Md., two e-prescribing software vendors, Fair said here at an e-connectivity educational session at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores' Pharmacy & Technology Conference last week. The retailer wanted to remove "the hassle factor" in the pharmacy and get back to counseling patients, Fair said.
Not only did Giant Food achieve that goal, the supermarket pharmacy became one of the first retailers to go to market with an e-prescribing initiative and pioneered the path for other retailers and physicians to jump on board with e-prescribing, said industry observers.
In an interview with SN after the session, Fair said the retailer started communicating prescriptions electronically between physicians and its pharmacists to improve the quality of life for Giant Food's pharmacy staff.
"We initially entered into this endeavor in order to improve the workflow and environment within our stores," he said. "We came out with it when the time was right. We saw some possibilities that we would be first to the market with this, and organizations like to be first to market. They like to show they are technology savvy, take risks, be pioneers, and increase the confidence consumers have in you as an organization. People look at it as a milestone and something to be proud of, but our main emphasis was, 'Does this enhance our productivity, our workflow and environment in our stores?"'
The beginning of e-prescribing began as a "chicken and egg situation," said Alan Weinstein, co-chairman of Instant Dx, which produces the OnCallData e-application for physicians to write prescriptions electronically. "Pharmacy was willing to be first and take the first step into e-prescribing," he said.
On the supermarket side, integrating the software with the supermarkets' other software applications was not an easy task, Fair told SN.
"Grocery has in-store processors that are multifunctional in tasking, and upgrades need to be done to integrate this software," he said. Each piece of software must be tested with the new e-prescribing software, Fair explained. The testing process took about eight or nine months at Giant Food. "The idea that this software can be easily integrated is not the case, but it's all worth the effort going forward."
Giant Food tackles the hurdle of building e-prescription awareness in the physician community through direct-mail marketing efforts to doctors' offices, Fair said. The retailer builds consumer awareness with its in-store circulars, he said.
"At this point we're trying to enlist more and more physicians into the system, using various marketing avenues and methods." Today, about 135 of Giant Food's 162 pharmacies receive prescriptions electronically on a weekly basis.
Among doctors' misconceptions about e-prescribing are that it is time-consuming and expensive, and that there is a learning curve, said Weinstein. "We need to take this misinformation out of the physician community and together go step by step."
While the panel discussion included adding features beyond e-prescribing, like including new formulary information for physicians, the next step in e-prescribing is "people using the system," said Fair. "One of my concerns is that if you add too much in the beginning, people will be overwhelmed," he said.
"The future is doctor-to-doctor communication," Weinstein said. "We're all working together and this is all about relationships."