The Friday Interview: Nick Strong, Systems Solutions

2 Sep 2005

The pharmaceutical world has to be an exact science otherwise, says Nick Strong (pictured), managing director of Irish technology firm Systems Solutions, the consequences can be both fatal and financial. His company’s software is enabling general practitioners (GPs) and pharmacists to meet the changing needs of Ireland’s healthcare sector and guaranteeing accuracy in the evolving patient-doctor-chemist relationship.

Systems Solutions was established 17 years ago to develop pharmacy management software. Today its technology is in use in 65pc of all Irish pharmacies and 10pc of UK pharmacies. The company recently secured a major contract with Boots, in which its technology has been deployed in some 1,400 stores.

Systems Solutions’ QicScript product, which is based on Windows 2000 and SQL server database technology, enables pharmacies to access medical records irrespective of where they are located to ensure the people who require the prescriptions are able to obtain them in the right quantity and in a targeted manner.

In recent months, Boots agreed to purchase QicScript Enterprise Plus, branded SmartScript, a best-of-breed patient medication record system. QicScript Enterprise Plus is an enhanced licensing model, introduced by Systems Solutions to enable large-scale pharmacy chains to acquire access to the source code of QicScript Enterprise Plus.

Access to the source code enables a client, such as Boots, to retain the benefits of using a proven product, while at the same time allowing bespoke modifications to be made. It’s the first model of its type to be introduced in Ireland and the UK, and reflects Systems Solutions response to the requirements of large organisations to develop their systems flexibly in a dynamic healthcare arena.

According to Strong, pharmaceutical chains are embracing new technology in different ways and this is central to the ever-evolving patient-doctor-chemist dynamic. He explains: “As in any other field of endeavour, in the medical and pharmaceutical world there are the early adopters, most of the rest and then the laggards.

“In the community pharmacy market the early adopters are interested in things such as using robotics to facilitate automated dispensing — theoretically this adds a lot more safety in addition to the speed with which prescriptions can be assembled. The second thing would be the advent of electronic prescription services. In the UK it is PC to PC with doctors transmitting prescription s to local pharmacies and when the patient turns up with a barcoded paper, the chemist reads the barcode and downloads the prescription. The advantage is accuracy.

“Here in Ireland we are further along in that process. Not in terms of doctor to pharmacy but we have been transmitting a copy of prescriptions from the pharmacy to the payment authority — the GMS Payments Board — and it is in a position to reimburse the pharmacy within 14 days,” he says.

Accuracy is the name of the game, says Strong, especially when issuing the wrong drugs can have fatal consequences for the patient and legal consequences for the pharmacy.

“In the case of Boots there are a number of issues. Today, a customer can go into any Boots store in UK, for example, and the pharmacist can access that customer’s record. The pharmacy is in a much better position to avoid harming the patient by giving the wrong medicine or one that interacts badly with a previous medicine or allergy.

“In Boots’ case the system needs to be powerful enough to work in real-time at the head office level so they can observe what’s going on in a pharmacy in real-time. In the UK, every chain of shops has to have a pharmacy superintendent and that person is legally liable if anything goes wrong. To help in that onerous role, the technology is there to facilitate a review of dispensing operations in real-time,” says Strong.

Technology is also changing the internal workings of the high-street pharmacy, Strong explains. “This is especially true in terms of costs. The big thing is that it facilitates a much more efficient stockholding system. It minimises the amount you need to store pharmaceuticals or other products in any store. For example, if you are over stocked in one place and under stocked in another place, rather than ordering more stock you have the knowledge to simply arrange a transfer. There is also a facility to avail of best buys when they become available. Every month pharmaceutical manufacturers place goods on special offer. The big pharmacy chains are able to predict on a seasonal basis the likely sales of certain products and if they know they’ll need 50,000 cases of aspirin, if that becomes available on special offer they can buy now to avail of the offer and improve their margins.”

As health boards, GPs and pharmacy firms embrace new technologies, Strong believes Systems Solutions is ideally placed to succeed. He concludes: “As well as working across the enterprise, our systems will work on a stand-alone basis and traditionally in an Irish environment more than 50pc of Irish pharmacies are independent and we are the market leader and we are conscious of the need to feed the independent market as well as the emerging chains.”

By John Kennedy

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