True Stories: Software keeps McCauleys Chemists in good health

1 Dec 2003

The friendly neighbourhood pharmacy does more than fill prescriptions these days. You can get your photos developed, you can purchase beauty products and gifts. But when you get right down to it the core of the business is dispensing pharmaceuticals. Running a pharmacy, however, is not like running a corner shop. It requires a certain level of expertise and while there is talk of deregulating the sector, there are still rules and regulations to be followed.

Sam McCauley Chemists is one of the success stories of the sector. Originally known as GB McCauley & Son, the business started with a single store in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford. The founder’s son Sam and his wife Lesley joined the business in 1978 and bought it out in 1983. Over the following eight years they consolidated the business, introduced computers to help them run it and in 1991 opened a second store in Wexford. Today, Sam McCauley Chemists consists of 14 stores in various locations in the south of the country as far north as Greystones in Co Wicklow and as far west as Tralee in Co Kerry, and a support office in Ardcavan, just outside Wexford.

IT plays a key role in the efficient running of the chain and Will Power, IT manager (pictured), is the man charged with making sure it all runs smoothly. The company uses several software packages to handle different parts of the business such as the beauty salons, photo developing operations and so on. For the dispensary end, however, the chain relies largely on QicScript from Irish software developer System Solutions.

Up until 1996 the company used a rival system but since then, according to Power, has been converting to System Solutions’ product. “At the moment, 11 of our stores would be using QicScript while the other three are waiting to be converted. By the end of January we should be using QicScript exclusively,” Power says.

There were a number of factors that persuaded the company to make the change. However, one of the strongest persuaders was the ability of QicScript to handle claims under the various government schemes. “When we were doing manual claims it was taking us three, even four months to get paid,” recalls Power. “That’s a lot of money. Now it takes a maximum of 14 days. As a prescription is filled, the software sends the order through.” Power points out that this is convenient for him because each store has dedicated lines, but if he didn’t have those he would be able to set the software to send claims in batches.

The company is also using QicScript for stock control. “What we are trying to do is bring our stock levels down as low as we can. Wholesalers can deliver twice a day so there’s no need to hold large quantities of stock. It is just money sitting there. We’ve created an online ordering mechanism from our electronic point of sales software and QicScript. When the pharmacist fills a prescription, QicScript will increment the stock control and put it into a queue for ordering,” he says.

Systems Solutions is scheduled to rollout a head office version of QicScript in June of next year and Power is currently in the process of installing the necessary infrastructure to support that. Once installed, it will enable the chain to fully exploit another core feature of the application, the patient medication record (PMR). At the moment all PMRs are held locally. However, once the head office system is up and running they will be held centrally.

The idea is that if a customer of, say, Sam McCauley’s Wexford branch is on holiday in Kerry and becomes ill and gets a prescription from a doctor there, if they go into the Tralee branch of McCauley’s the pharmacist there will be able to access their record from the Wexford branch to check for allergies and so on. The aim, says Power, is to keep the length of time waiting for a prescription to a minimum.

While Sam McCauley Chemists is a medium-sized chain, employing about 500 people across all 14 stores, System Solutions’ marketing manager Rachel Weir is at pains to point out that QicScript is just as suitable for the sole trader as it is for the major chain, such as Boots that in the UK is also a System Solutions client.

“Our business in Ireland is strongly comprised of independent pharmacies. In any situation where people want to consolidate information and make better decisions, it doesn’t matter if they are small group with a couple of stores or a fast growing group such as Sam McCauley, QicScript can be applied in both contexts,” she insists.

By David Stewart