Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Special Delivery: VA's mail-order pharmacy system
In a nondescript building in North Charleston, South Carolina, thousands of tiny orange bottles jostle along automated conveyor belts, jockeying for position as they traverse the interior of the 75,000 square foot Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy. The facility, one of only seven in the entire nation, fills, packages and distributes more than 110,000 prescriptions every day for Veterans residing in the southeast and elsewhere.
The Charleston CMOP partners with the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston to deliver millions of prescriptions to Veterans every year, thus eliminating most of the burden on the hospital's in-house pharmacy.
"We fill about 80 percent of the prescriptions needed by Veterans at the Charleston VA Medical Center and the Community Based Outpatient Clinics," said Duane Dunning, Charleston CMOP liaison pharmacist. "Often we have around a 30 hour turn-around time. It usually only takes about two and a half days from the time the Veteran requests the refill to when it's delivered to their mailbox or doorstep."
This efficiency means that Veterans are able to count on getting their necessary medications quickly and with very little delay or hassle. Patients no longer have to sit in long lines at the hospital or clinic pharmacy to refill prescriptions in person.
The Charleston CMOP is a highly automated facility with numerous established checkpoints and tracking systems in place that ensure patient safety.
"Our goal is to deliver the right medication to the right patient every time," said Dunning. "We have an excellent track record too. In a typical month, we process 2.3 million prescription orders. Of those, we usually only have two or three dispensing errors, such as the patient receiving the wrong medication, or the wrong number of pills, or a patient receiving a medication they did not order."
"To put that in perspective, we like to equate it to easily identifiable and sometimes comical statistics," said CMOP Associate Director Lisa Harle. "For instance, you have a better chance of getting struck by an asteroid, of dating a supermodel, or of being harmed by a toilet seat than you do of getting the wrong prescription or dosage from this CMOP."
The Charleston CMOP is also one of only two facilities in the country that can fill prescriptions for controlled substances. The Charleston pharmacy handles orders for patients residing east of the Mississippi River, while the CMOP in Murfreesboro, Tennessee processes those being mailed to patients west of the Mississippi, according to Dunning.
Patients have several ways to request refills through the CMOP. They may call in to the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center's automated system at 843-577-5011, order refills online through VA's electronic health management system, My HealtheVet, or mail in a refill slip.
In September of 2014, the CMOP added the capability to check the status of prescriptions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the VA's new online tracker system. Veterans with Advanced or Premium My HealtheVet profiles can log in to their accounts and access shipping information, carrier tracking numbers and their prescription histories under the pharmacy tab. While this technology allows Veteran patients to quickly find pertinent information regarding their medications handled by the CMOP, Veterans are also still able to call in to the Charleston VA pharmacy to inquire about the status of their refills.
Last year, the seven VA mail-order pharmacies filled and sent out 117 million prescriptions, according to Kenneth Siehr, national director for CMOP. This year, they are on track to process 121 million orders. Additionally, the CMOPs have recently received the highest customer satisfaction score in a J.D. Power and Associates survey for the fourth year in a row. Veterans ranked their experience with the mail-out pharmacies higher than most civilian brick-and-mortar pharmacies.
"We really offer an invaluable service to Veterans," Dunning said. "We save them time and energy and safeguard their well-being. Automation is so much safer and is more efficient than manual distribution, which is often riddled with human error. We are proud to do our part for our Veterans and we continue to try and streamline the process every day - making it quicker, more cost-effective and safer for the patients."