Pharmacy makes use of high tech

By Bill Rautenstrauch, for The Observer October 30, 2013 09:21 am

Red Cross Drug owner Bob Coulter shows off a high-tech measuring device used in the storeís lab. Coulterís business recently was written in a national magazine that showcases technological innovation in the pharmacy trade. (BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH/WesCom News Service)
Red Cross Drug owner Bob Coulter shows off a high-tech measuring device used in the storeís lab. Coulterís business recently was written in a national magazine that showcases technological innovation in the pharmacy trade. (BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH/WesCom News Service)

Red Cross Drug in La Grande keeps pace with the latest technological innovations in the pharmacy trade

There’s an artifact from another age sitting on a shelf in a conference room at Red Cross Drug. It’s a Royal typewriter, the klunky, manually-operated machine businesses used to produce documents before computers came along.

Bob Coulter, owner of the Red Cross Drug Store at 1123 Adams Ave., in La Grande, can easily recall a time when the old Royal was the heart and soul of his operation. Medication dispensing was done by the old “count and pour, lick and stick” method. The Royal was used for everything from compiling records, to filling out claim forms, writing business letters, and making prescription labels.

Those were the good old days that got nothing but better. Old A.C. McLennan, the man who founded Red Cross Drug in
La Grande about 1903, wouldn’t believe his eyes if he could see the changes.

“From a typewriter, we grew up into the age of the computer,” Coulter said. “Now, the computer’s everything. It keeps records, verifies eligibility, processes claims. And it does it all instantly.”

Today, Red Cross is about as automated as a drug store gets. And not long ago, the national trade publication “ComputerTalk for the Pharmacist” praised Coulter’s independent, family-owned business as one that survives beautifully in a rural area by staying even with the high technology curve.

The article in the September-October issue, by Bruce Kneeland, points to Red Cross Drug’s Innovation robot, an automated dispensing system that enables the filling of prescriptions every 15 seconds. Coulter said the robot dispenses about 40 percent of the countable tablets and capsules sold at the store.

Also mentioned in the article is Coulter’s Eyecon pill counting machine that is used for the less-commonly prescribed medications, and his “PickPoint” will-call system that uses LED lights to directs clerks unerringly to medications ready for pickup.

Still another feature getting attention in the magazine is Red Cross’s prescription synchronization program. This is a system that tracks medications a customer is taking, and ensures the medication is ready for pickup on the same date each month.

The service includes a personal phone call with a medication review, so that pharmacists can be sure there are no changes in medications. About 600 customers are signed up for synchronization, according to the article.

Coulter, a La Grande native who studied pharmacy at Oregon State University, became the owner of Red Cross Drug in 1983. The store was located at Adams Avenue and Elm Street, and owned at the time by Les Kimbrell.

Later, Coulter bought out Graham Drug at 1210 Adams and moved his operation there. He continued to thrive and grow. In 1991, pharmacist Glen Troyer, doing business as Glass Drug at 1123 Adams, sold out to Coulter.

Red Cross moved to that location. The old historic building at Adams Avenue and Depot Street had a lot to offer, Coulter said.

“It’s a better location, bigger and more visible,” he said.

Coulter, whose career before Red Cross included a 10- year stint as a pharmacist and assistant manager for Payless Drugs, has always understood technology’s value. He said Red Cross Drugs had its first business computer by 1985.

The store is situated in the historic downtown district but must compete effectively with the big chain stores doing business farther out. Coulter said the technological improvements allow for that, while providing staff with more time for caring customer service.

“It lets us take care of people. We’re not spending all our time counting and pouring, licking and sticking,” he said.

Coulter’s pharmacist wife, Susan, is a co-owner of the business, and his daughter, Leah Lester, is the general manager. Red Cross employs 25 people full and part time, including managers, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and clerks. In addition to the pharmacy, the store has a section selling gift items.

Coulter said his company continues to focus on growth. One recent expansion was the acquisition of the Olive Branch pharmacy in Enterprise; another is a prescription synchronization and delivery service for people confined to places like adult foster homes or assisted living facilities.

Technology will continue to play a role in Red Cross Drug’s success, but Coulter said that in a small town like La Grande, people skills trump even that.

“We have the same pills behind the counter as the others. The transaction across the counter is what makes the difference,” he said.