More than 30 million prescription forms are dispensed in Wales every year. Prescribing Services, part of the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership (NWSSP), is the organization responsible for capturing data from every prescription form.
Prescription data is used to calculate the reimbursement due to community pharmacies, appliance contractors, dispensing doctors and GPs who personally administer medication for medicines and medical devices they dispense against National Health Service (NHS) prescriptions. The data is also used to provide management information to budget, plan for, and manage the use of medicines in NHS Wales.
A compelling business case
Since 2004, the Cardiff-based Prescribing Services scanning centre has used high-volume intelligent scanners to capture 20,000 Welsh prescriptions per hour. The business case for transitioning to automated prescription processing was compelling. The sheer throughput capability of high-volume scanning has enabled Prescribing Services to process significantly more prescriptions in a shorter time frame and at a lower cost.
Sophisticated workflows have facilitated business processes as well as improved the audit trail, and prescription images can be shared with external medicine management services in an instant. The requirement to store paper-based prescriptions has also been reduced from thirteen to five months. In summary, high-volume scanning has yielded huge cost and time savings, quality improvements and process efficiencies for more than six years.
A fresh approach
By April 2010, support and maintenance for Prescribing Services' high-volume scanning solution was due to expire, and Neil Jenkins, Business Services Lead for Prescribing Services, launched an initiative to manage the system refresh. In addition to replacing the aging hardware, Jenkins was keen to increase the intelligence and depth of on-the-fly data capture from 2D barcodes through next generation technology.
Prescribing Services considered whether to return to a desktop solution but very quickly decided that the increase in operator and maintenance overhead would be counter-productive. On average, prescription volumes in Wales increase by 5% per annum, so the organization had seen an increase in processing volumes from 2.4 million in 2004 to over 3 million in 2010. High-volume scanning platforms are well equipped to handle this volume of throughput with little or no increase in overhead. After reviewing the offerings of several leading providers of high-volume scanning solutions, Prescribing Services decided there were benefits to retaining its existing high-volume scanning architecture.
Working on a tight schedule
Upon completion of their pre-qualification process, Prescribing Services invited three suppliers to submit bids in November 2010. Benchmark testing and scoring exercises were underway by December. The results of these tests were combined with evaluations relating to other criteria, including the requirement for successful candidates to demonstrate financial stability and a proven track record in high-volume scanning environments.
In February 2011, Prescribing Services awarded the system refresh contract to Kodak, which sells and maintains ibml's high-volume intelligent scanning solutions throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East. According to Jenkins, "In our benchmarking tests, the ibml ImageTrac was more accurate in providing key recognition results than the solutions proposed by other short-listed candidates. We were happy with the price-performance quoted by Kodak/ibml, and their solution also provided an easy transition that was more rapid and safe than any option presented by alternative suppliers."
A smooth and successful transition
By March 2011, Prescribing Services had taken delivery of two ImageTrac units. "Installation couldn't have been simpler. We deployed the new ibml units one at a time over a two week period to ensure a smooth transition. The units were up and running immediately, requiring only a few small configuration tweaks to meet our specific requirements. The interface and operating procedures were very familiar to our operators, so no re-training was required," said Jenkins.
"Initially we had concerns about switching support from our previous supplier to Kodak," remarks Jenkins. "Any doubts we had were quickly dispelled. We have found Kodak and ibml to be responsive and easy to deal with every step of the way, although we have had little need to call upon their support services throughout the entire installation and set-up phase."
Leveraging the investment
David Hopkins, Head of Prescribing Services at NWSSP, was involved in the final decision to purchase the ImageTracs to replace the previous solution. In addition to processing prescriptions effectively, his sights are firmly set on automating and increasing the efficiency of other mission-critical functions.
"We are piloting a number of projects, which would suit the ImageTrac's broad capability, including invoice processing and staff records handling. We believe we can leverage our investment in the ImageTrac to bring wide-ranging benefits to NHS Wales as a whole, at minimal additional expense." The ImageTrac currently has spare capacity to handle other processing projects, and the only additional overhead would be in the form of pre-scanning preparation.
Kodak and ibml have enabled Prescribing Services to hit all of its processing targets more efficiently and cost effectively than before. "Both Kodak and ibml pulled out all the stops to ensure our units were delivered on time and within budget, in accordance with our very aggressive schedule," said Jenkins. "We have no regrets about switching suppliers, and we look forward to working with Kodak and ibml long into the future."
For more information visit www.nwssp.wales.nhs.uk