ST. CLOUD -- The bulk of prescriptions handled by Coborn's Pharmacy services are now being sorted and packaged using automated technology.

Jim Cox, Director of Pharmacy Operations for Coborn's, says ExpressRx Track uses high-volume computer software, a conveyor system and robots to count, label and bag medications in a central filling facility located in St. Cloud. The prescriptions are then shipped out to the company's 40 pharmacy locations.

ExpressRx Track is capable of filling around 2,000 individual scripts per day, theoretically allowing pharmacists — normally pouring, measuring and packaging medications — to spend more time with customers, Cox says.

"How do we get them closer to the patient? The best way is to do that is to relieve them of some of the dispensing functions by using technology, and in this case, automation."

There are certain prescriptions pharmacists will continue to fill on-site, including those in need of refrigeration, liquids, acute medications and controlled substances, such as opiod painkillers.

Cox says the efficiency of ExpressRx Track will help offset a growing reduction in reimbursements from insurance companies — a trend that has affected the company's profit margin.

“As those margins go down and we get continued pressure on our profitability, we need to figure out ways to scale the operation and use technology, so we can offset the reduction in profitability.”

Earlier in January, Minnesota-based HealthPartners announced the decision to close all 30 retail pharmacies, eliminating around 300 positions. Cox says Coborn's does not intend to use automation as a means of eliminating pharmacy locations or jobs.

"The goal is ultimately to preserve jobs by maintaining profitability. It's our job to make sure we stay economically viable, and don't create an access gap in communities that need pharmacy services. One way to do that is to invest in technologies that are ultimately more affordable."

Coborn's Pharmacy operates 38 retail and two clinic locations, employing roughly 400 people.

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