Fort Knox clinic, pharmacy work to improve efficiency for military patients

Medical care changes coming to Fort Knox at the start of 2020 have necessitated changes to Binter Street Pharmacy, the go-to pharmacy for pharmacy services for retirees and their families. 

Medical care changes coming to Fort Knox early next year also have necessitated changes to how Binter Street Pharmacy operates.

Set to open in Jan­u­ary, the newly constructed Ireland Army Health Clinic’s pharmacy, with its much smaller footprint, solely will focus on servicing active duty soldiers and their families.

“We’re going from nine windows to four win­dows,” said Capt. Travis Weaver, chief of pha­r­macy at the Fort Knox Medical De­part­ment Activity. “As well, our waiting room space is small­er and shared with Lab and Radiology, so we all have one waiting room versus one dedicated waiting room to pharmacy.”

The anticipated opening of the new clinic has prompted Weaver and clinic leaders to reconfigure Binter Street Pharmacy as the dedicated facility for retirees and their families, while the new clinic pharmacy will focus on fills and refills for service members and their families during the normal workweek.

Binter Street will be the only pharmacy open Saturdays.

“That new work area is what led us to have to move so much of our workload over to Binter, because we’re going into a smaller space,” Weaver said. “It’s been a considerable shift.”

Previously, the clinic pharmacy at the legacy building was the main location for medications, with 60 percent of Fort Knox prescriptions being filled there and 40 percent filled at Binter Street.

All that changed rough­ly a year ago when phar­ma­cists began down­sizing the workload at the clinic in anticipation for the move. Now, about 20 percent of pre­scriptions are filled at the clinic with 80 percent or more filled at Binter Street.

The new focus for Binter also has affected pharmacy staff, according to Col. Amy Roy, deputy commander for nursing services at Ireland Army Health Clinic.

“It puts a strain on the pharmacy staff when you have to change the workload from here at the clinic over to Binter Street because you move them there,” Roy said.

Adding to the strain is an adjusted focus on personnel at pharmacies across the U.S. Army. Roy said they will lose all their military personnel in the pharmacies, leaving only federal civilian employees to fill and refill prescriptions.

Roy acknowledged the changes have put a strain on retirees and their families as well as patients who have already had to adjust to the network system.

“For the patients who got referred out to the network, the retirees, it is extremely stressful on them because it’s a completely new health care system,” Roy said. “That’s not what they’re used to.”

Prescription processes have had to change as a result of retirees and their families being moved to the network.

Weaver said previously patients would be seen in the clinic, their prescriptions typed electronically into the internal network and then quickly filled with few issues.

“When you’re seen in the network, everything has to be either handwritten, faxed or sent on an electronic prescription, which is essentially a handwritten prescription sent electronically,” Weaver said. “Doctors can write for anything they want, so a lot of times it doesn’t match up to what TRICARE covers or what we have in stock.

Weaver said mistakes are more frequent with a system reliant on faxes and handwritten prescriptions, which further delays the process of filling a prescription. That extra effort has doubled the processing time it takes to get the roughly 600 patients they see and 1,200 prescriptions they fill each day.

“There’s a lot of room for error that we have to call providers on and make changes, and get clarification,” Weaver said. “A lot of phone calls are made.”

As a result, Weaver and Roy are working on ways to alleviate some of the stress on patients.

One solution is for patients to look up suggested prescriptions on the TRICARE Formulary Search Tool to ensure they are covered.

“You can look up any drug and see if it’s covered by TRICARE, and it also tells you if there’s a copay associated with it if you were to go to a Walmart or Walgreens or CVS. Or if there’s a copay associated with mail order,” Weaver said.

He said many network beneficiaries rely on Binter Street for their medications because of copay charges.

“Copays are the driving force, especially since unfortunately they are increasing,” Weaver said. “People drive from other states; people make three-hour drives just for their pharmacy service.”

Another idea they have implemented is a drop-­off window, what Weaver calls an express line, where patients can drop off a form that alerts pharmacists to allergies and what medications they need.

“They can just take that straight to the window, leave and come back later to pick up their medication,” Weaver said. “That is something we’re really trying to get folks to realize. Say you drove three hours. You can come on post, stop at the pharmacy, do the drop-off, go to the commissary and then come back later to pick up your meds and you’re not stuck in the waiting room.”

Another way to help patients is the recently installed text-messaging system.

“It will do two things,” said Weaver. “It’ll text message patients whenever their refill prescriptions are ready for pickup and it’ll also text message them, if they opt in and do the drop-off, when their medications are in and ready for pickup.”

Weaver said pharmacists currently are announcing to patients it will take about three hours to get prescriptions filled. Using the text-messaging system, patients can find out exactly when their medications are ready.

The last suggestion Roy and Weaver offered to help to alleviate stress for patients is something patients can do for themselves — plan to arrive during slower times.

Weaver recommends visit­ing Binter Street after 10 a.m. on Mondays or between 2 and 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

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