Clinic Dispensing – Labeling Options

When dispensing, clinics typically have two options for tracking medications and printing labels for dispensed medications: 1) a manual system that uses a handwritten label and a logbook or 2) software that tracks the medications and automates the printing of the label.  Northwind Pharmaceuticals has clinics using both methods.  This post will discuss the pros and cons of both approaches.

Manual Labeling
With the manual labeling approach, clinics are given a three ring binder with carbon label sheets.  These labels are pre-printed with the clinic or doctor's name and have blank spaces for the patient's name, instructions and the physician's signature.  When the medication is dispensed, the provider writes the patient's name and instructions on the label then signs it.  The label is peeled off of the sheet and placed on the bottle.  The carbon impression is left on the sheet in the logbook for tracking.  Most prepackaged medications also have peel-off labels on the bottle with the drug name, lot # and expiration date so the clinic can document the dispense on a patient chart or receipt.  This method of labeling is very quick, requiring the same amount of time it takes to write a script.  The logbook makes tracking dispenses slightly more difficult and also requires more space to store.  The DEA requires that dispensing records for controlled substances are kept for 2 years; state pharmacy board requirements may vary. 

Computer Generated Labels
If the clinic chooses to use software to manage the dispensing process, the provider will scan the bottle, select the patient, select instructions and print the label.  The software will track inventory and dispenses thereby allowing the clinic to easily pull information and determine when to reorder medications.  The biggest downfall to the software approach is that, by design, it cannot be as fast as completing a couple of lines on a pre-printed label.  For high-volume clinics, this is a huge challenge.  From a tracking and reporting perspective, software is the ideal choice.

Electronic Medical Records
Adding to the challenge of selecting the best approach is the prevalence of electronic medical records (EMR).  As EMR systems become the norm, clinics become more hesitant to use additional software to manage dispensing.  Most EMR packages will track inventory and many also track dispenses.  Until the time when most EMR's also print labels for medication dispensing, the best solution will likely be the manual labeling approach.  If your EMR is tracking inventory and dispenses, then handwriting a few pieces of information on a patient label is a very easy, and very fast, approach.

Keep It Simple
We have been approached by a number of clinics debating direction with regard to labeling.  My recommendation has been to focus on priorities.  If you are implementing an EMR solution, get the best application for your practice.  We will work with you to make the dispensing side as easy as possible.  Over time, these solutions will evolve to accommodate pharmaceutical dispensing within the clinic.  The Northwind dispensing system, RxTracker, makes it easy to import or export data.  However, we've found we can be of much greater value by working with the clinic to fit in with their processes.  Less is more when it comes to systems and we recommend that you keep your processes as simple as possible.



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