The only way to free up time is to work smarter, rather than harder, says Noel Wicks

What’s the most precious commodity for a pharmacy? You can’t buy more if you run out and you can’t sell it, in the unlikely event you had any to spare. I am, of course, talking about time. These days it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, particularly if you’re a pharmacist, and I’m sure most staff feel this as well.

Pharmacy has improved efficiency in the past through innovations such as PMRs and other time-saving support tools. While we aren’t completely at the end of the pipeline for these sorts of things (think serial dispensing and robotics), it can feel like there’s little or no slack in the system as it stands.

But what can we do while we await the next technological time-saving advance in pharmacy? One thing that I think pharmacists can do is to take a step back and look at what you do in the pharmacy and how you do it.

In my experience, pharmacists, in particular, tend to hold on to far too many tasks that other members of staff would be perfectly capable of doing. This could be something as simple as answering the phone or counting the prescriptions. It all depends on the skill mix in the pharmacy, but often I see pharmacists thinking it’s easier or quicker to do something themselves than to show someone else how to do it. On that one occasion it may be, but going forward it will pay to show others how to do different tasks in the pharmacy. I often ask myself, ‘Does it really need me to do this?’ If the answer is ‘no’ and someone else is available, then I will ask or show them. The trick I’ve found with this is to try and incorporate these sorts of jobs into someone’s daily role and responsibilities so that I know they are covered. I can then do the things that really need me as the pharmacist to do them.

So come on, don’t be afraid to let go of a few things. You will be amazed by how well staff can handle them, sometimes even better than an overstretched pharmacist.

The problem is that this is just shifting workload around the same tasks are just being performed by different people. To create capacity we need to work smarter, rather than harder.

In my experience, pharmacists, in particular, tend to hold on to far too many tasks that other members of staff would be perfectly capable of doing

If you take a good look, I am sure you can find all kinds of small efficiencies in your pharmacy. This could be something as simple as looking at your ordering system. It’s so more efficient to check off one order of 10 packs of paracetamol than 10 orders of one pack, for example.

Whether it’s a simple thing like that or a more complicated one such as restructuring your prescription-collection schedule to even out workflow, small efficiencies do soon add up.

I’ve also found that by targeting those things that were actually wasting time (eg looking for prescriptions that aren’t yet back from the surgery), you can sometimes remove a small amount of daily stress for everyone across the pharmacy team as well.

Noel Wicks is an independent pharmacist 

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