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377th MDG Exchange pharmacy improves process to increase patient safety, reduce wait times

Man in military uniform accepts small paper bag from a woman in military uniform.

Maj. John McGrath, 377th Medical Group chief of pharmacy services, left, receives a prescription from Airman 1st Class Deja Parker, pharmacy frontline supervisor, Aug. 16, 2021, at the Exchange pharmacy at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The pharmacy team has streamlined services to increase patient safety and reduce wait times. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Cochran)

Man in military uniform accepts small paper bag from woman in military uniform.

Maj. John McGrath, 377th Medical Group chief of pharmacy services, right, receives a prescription from Airman 1st Class Deja Parker, pharmacy frontline supervisor, Aug. 16, 2021, at the Exchange pharmacy at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. The pharmacy team has streamlined services to increase patient safety and reduce wait times. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Cochran)

Outdoor sign for Exchange pharmacy at Kirtland AFB, N.M.

The 377th Medical Group Exchange pharmacy team at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, has streamlined services to increase patient safety and reduce wait times. (U.S. Air Force photo by John Cochran)

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

The 377th Medical Group Exchange pharmacy team at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, has streamlined services to increase patient safety and reduce wait times for the 700 prescriptions they fill each day.

Previously, the Exchange pharmacy operated under a “point of service” system that was time-consuming, meaning patients would sit in the lobby for 45 minutes before being called to the “intake” window, according to Maj. John McGrath, a pharmacist and the 377th Medical Group chief of pharmacy operations.

Since July 16, 2021, a re-engineered process has made the pharmacy operation safer, by eliminating 300 potential prescribing/transcribing errors each month under the previous process; more COVID-19 friendly, by filling prescriptions more quickly, so patients don’t wait in groups as long as they did before; and faster, by making fulfillment more efficient. The previous 45-minute wait before a patient is called to the window is now down to 5-10 minutes, followed by a 30-minute wait to receive the prescription.

“For the past two weeks, we’ve been under an hour for the total process,” McGrath said. “We’re 75% manned, so we have to utilize our people to the fullest capacity. That’s a lot of Airman 1st Class Deja Parker’s job, as our frontline supervisor. It’s a big leadership role for an airman first class, and she’s doing fantastic,” he said.

“When you’re implementing a change like this, there’s no ‘soft’ implementation – you just have to go live, and work out the issues as they come. For our technicians to go live with a change like this, and to have positive comments through the change – change is a turbulent time for a lot of people. We’ve seen an increase in patient satisfaction,” said Master Sgt. Rhonda Russell, section chief, Outpatient Pharmacy.

The major explained the rationale behind the innovations.

“A typical retail outpatient pharmacy probably fills 300 prescriptions in a day. We’re doing quite a bit more volume, so we really need to have our systems and processes down,” McGrath said.

“I really like this system and I wanted to get buy-in from the team. This team is open to process changes to make it the best we can for our patients. The team has made it work. I’m really proud of this team, and Airman 1st Class Parker, because she’s the one on the front line, making it work every day,” McGrath said.

Other pharmacy improvements on the horizon include a new phone system, upgraded patient kiosks, and a facility renovation that will boost efficiency.

Another area of growing success for the Exchange pharmacy is the “Carepoint” website, a Defense Department initiative that is used to recognize patients who are good candidates for a nasal spray that treats drug overdoses.

“We have implemented a new process to vastly increase our dispensing of the opiate antidote, Narcan, to individuals receiving narcotics,” McGrath said.

“I’ve gotten calls from patients thanking us. ‘You gave my grandmother this product. We found her on the floor, and we gave her a spray in her nostril and saved her life.’ It is a life-saving medication,” the pharmacist said.

McGrath wrapped up his comments with praise for the Airmen around him.

“This team is fantastic – really doing great things. We’re not stopping here. We’re going to continue to make things better and safer for our patients.”