This Military Pharmacy Program Could Reduce Waiting Room Time

Air Force Pharmacist fills prescription

The days of sitting in a military treatment facility pharmacy waiting area for hours at a time may be over if a pilot program is a success.

A dozen military treatment pharmacies are using an electronic queuing system designed to help patients avoid wasting time in waiting rooms.

The system, known as Q-Flow, was installed at 12 locations between December 2017 and early October of this year, said Navy Capt. Edward Norton, a pharmacy expert with the Defense Health Agency.

Currently, most military treatment facility (MTF) pharmacies require patients to take a number and then wait before processing their entire order during one window visit, a system Norton said is known as the bank teller method.

The Q-Flow system, however, operates more like a typical off-base retail pharmacy. When users first enter, they take a number from the electronic kiosk and are then quickly called to a window to start their order, typically within 10 minutes, he said. They can wait in the pharmacy area for their order to be ready, or leave and be notified by text message when it's complete. When customers return, they then wait again for pick-up.

Although the system may not be faster overall, it does eliminate the need for the customer to simply sit and wait for their number to be called.

"The end game is probably trying to find a way for the pharmacy to provide better service to the patients," Norton said.

But the system can also help pharmacy managers track peak times, how long each patient spends at each window, and even which technician is most efficient, he said.

The Q-Flow pilot sites are Fort Bliss, Texas; Premier Community Based Medical Home near Fort Carson, Colorado; Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany; Fort Irwin, California; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Navy Health Clinic Annapolis, Maryland; Navy Medical Center Portsmouth, Virginia; Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Naval Hospital Pensacola, Florida; Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland; and Travis Air Force Base, California.

Norton said he did not have data readily available on how much the pilot program costs, in part because installing the system required upgrades specific to each location. The pilot locations were selected to represent various base sizes, as well as off-base clinics and overseas and stateside locations.

The pilot program could run as long as December 2019, Norton said, and doesn't yet have a firm end date set. It's also too early to tell how it has changed habits or workflow, he said.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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