The Little Pharmacy That Could....Old Town Clinic

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Great ideas sometimes strike in the most unusual places. For Pharmacist Shelton Louie, it was standing in a dry cleaning business and watching the numbered garments flit by. “They never lose track of a thing…one person for one number and it’s discrete,” he thought. And then, at a pharmacy convention, an early morning speaker presented details on emerging technology, which was making use of the radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems developed in World War II to identify aircraft and for asset tracking. In today’s technology, RFID equates to a Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

Shelton, with 30+ years experience working in retail pharmacies, had been frustrated with the organizational challenges of the industry. According to Shelton and Old Town Clinic  pharmacist Sandy Anderson, pharmacists have long been taught to file filled prescriptions alphabetically by last name, sometimes segmented by the day the prescription came in. The retail environment Shelton and Sandy worked in together used a “shelf” system; all prescriptions beginning with the letter “A” go on one shelf (sometimes a plastic bin of sorts), all the “Bs” in another and so on.

Problems plagued this system. Patients can have the same names, patients can’t remember when they brought the prescription in and medications get put in the wrong bins. Not only do such problems create long waiting times for patients and inefficiencies in workflow, but they pose the potentially life-threatening danger of the wrong medication being dispensed.

Shelton knew there had to be a better way. For years, he and longtime friend and computer & electrical engineer Steve Garrett developed, tested and refined a sophisticated prescription tracking system, using RFID. Their vision of RFID was to use it like GPS for the pharmacy and thus the name GSL (Global Script Locator). Shelton continued to work his day job as a retail pharmacist while he and Steve toiled away on evenings and weekends to create their system. Seventeen patents later, Shelton left his day job in the late 2000s to commit completely to the company he founded, GSL Solutions, Inc., with its IntelliCab™ System for the storage and tracking of medications.

Using the IntelliCab System, a prescription is first entered into a software program and associated with a standard RFID tag; tags are affixed to SmartBaskets™ that hold the prescription while it is in filling and checking processes. This tag helps notify staff of the prescription’s physical location in the pharmacy at all times. After a prescription is checked by the pharmacist, it is placed in a random cell in the IntelliCab, a lockable electronic RFID cabinet with real-time IntelliSys™ tracking software. Each long, narrow cabinet provides up to 480 discrete cells to hold a patient’s medications. Each cell may contain more than one prescription so long as it belongs to the same patient.

When a patient arrives, a pharmacy clerk brings up the patient’s name and enters their birth date in the computer. The IntelliCab System then lights up to direct the clerk to the drawer storing the patient’s medication . The clerk uses a RFID card to identify themselves before the system will grant access to that drawer. Once authenticated, the clerk opens the drawer and lights illuminate below the cell where the medication is located. This makes for fast, easy and error-free retrieval. Since the system is monitoring the SmartBaskets™ in real-time it knows if a clerk accidently begins pulling from the wrong cell, which will cause a loud alarm to sound preventing a medication error.

“The IntelliCab System eliminates filing and retrieval errors, sorting through hanging bags or drawers resulting in long lines and dissatisfied patients,” said Shelton during a visit to the Old Town Clinic. “IntelliCabs™ frees up pharmacists to consult on medications instead of rummaging to find them.” “Every time, the person gets the right one, every time there’s accountability.”

Shelton made his first sale of the IntelliCab System in 2006, and in 2008 his innovative product caught the attention of the U.S. Army. The Air Force soon followed after. Today IntelliCab Systems are targeted for every major military medical treatment facility worldwide and are setting a new error-free standard of practice. In addition to the military, IntelliCabs can be found in major national retailers in the United States and Canada.

Sandy Anderson Contacts Shelton for more information on IntelliCab Systems
Shelton had spent many of his retail pharmacy days working with Sandy Anderson. Fellow Oregon State University graduates, they experienced many chaotic “shelf-diving” moments looking for misfiled medications. Sandy, named 2012 Pharmacist of the Year selected by the Oregon State Pharmacy Association, joined Central City Concern’s Old Town Clinic in September 2009. In 2010 Central City Concern opened a small in-house pharmacy to provide prescriptions to its uninsured population, using mostly pharmaceuticals provided by charity and scholarship medication programs. The pharmacy was designed to fill around 200 prescriptions per day. In the nearly three years since its opening, pharmacy services have grown dramatically, and CCC now fills nearly 500 prescriptions daily.

During 2011 and 2012, Old Town Clinic added nearly 1,000 patients to its existing base of patients and today, it meets the needs of nearly 4,000 very low-income individuals. It was clear to Central City Concern that the pharmacy was in dire need of expansion. A traditional waiting room was non-existent and private consultations were held in whispers because there was no private place to talk. Sandy also knew she needed a better tracking system for the growing number of prescriptions her staff was handling. In 2013, the Clinic dispensed nearly 100,000 prescriptions.

Joe Intile and Shelton Louie from GSL Solutions, Inc. with Sandy Anderson, OTC PharmacistAs Sandy (shown center with Jor Intile and Shelton Louis of GSL Solutions, Inc.)  began researching options, she called Shelton. She explained that her clients are often homeless and don’t have cell phones. “If we have a ‘picking or bundling error’ or we don’t find all the patients medications in will-call, they could leave and take that regimen for an entire month before they come back," said Sandy. Understanding this great need, Shelton soon offered to donate an IntelliCab System to accommodate the Clinic’s newly increased capacity. “IntelliCabs gives us the tool to be professional and not running around looking for prescriptions. It gives our patients the confidence in us to accept our advice on their drug treatment.”

Mitzvah Fund Contacts Central City Concern
Randy Weisberg has a quiet passion to make a difference in the lives of people who have undergone treatment for addiction and are striving to lead healthier lives. He advises the Mitzvah Fund at the Oregon Community Foundation. “Mitzvah” is Hebrew for a moral deed performed as a religious duty or an act of human kindness.

“In an incredible stroke of luck and timing, Randy called our office in the fall to see if Central City Concern had any capital projects it needed help with,” said Ed Blackburn, Executive Director of CCC.

“Not only did we know that we had to improve our pharmacy, but we also had a Medication Assisted Recovery Program launching in 2014 and we estimated that with Medicaid expansion, our prescription demand could easily go from 500 a day to 1000 in the coming year. Our staff submitted a proposal that went through a competitive process, and at the end of the year, the Mitzah Fund awarded us $300,000 to help cover the costs of our pharmacy remodel,” said Ed. 

The Mitzvah Fund grant helped create five dedicated consultation spaces, a private room for more in-depth patient interaction, storage capacity and a waiting room for the pharmacy.

Old Town Clinic’s first floor space was closed for renovations from October through early January 2014. The pharmacy and an improved Urgent Care Clinic reopened on January 13th.

“The combined goodwill of Shelton Louie of GSL Solutions, Inc. and the Mitzvah Fund is making an enormous difference to our operations and our ability to serve people in need,” said Rachel Solotaroff, Medical Director of Central City Concern.

“So many of the people who come to us are so fragile, so alienated from society,” added Sandy Anderson, Old Town Clinic’s head pharmacist. “With us, they feel safe. And the new space and the new equipment allow us to provide our patients with even more personalized care, which keeps them engaged in their health and recovery. Randy and Shelton clearly understand who we are as an organization and the people we serve. They have shown real compassion and we are very grateful to have earned their support.”