Growing at a blistering pace

Synergy Medical’s SynMed technology has proven instrumental in the increased use of convenient blister packs, designed to improve medication management and consequently health outcomes. SynMed automation ensures accurate and efficient production of this adherence packaging

Blister cards were a welcome innovation in their day. Having medications grouped by the hour and the day of the week has certainly made it easier for patients to adhere to their treatment regimens and take their medications regularly. Their benefits notwithstanding, the growing use of blister cards also significantly increased the workload in pharmacies – their manual preparation is labour-intensive, repetitive, and subject to errors. It quickly became clear that an automated solution that would ensure accuracy, precision, and safety, was needed. Enter Synergy Medical and its SynMed device, which revolutionised the process of distributing pharmaceuticals into dosing blister cards in 2008 after four long years of research, development, and thorough testing.

“Our system uses robotic and vacuum technology to securely dispense solid oral medications into blister packs. Both the hardware and software of SynMed are unique and were developed in-house by our team of engineers,” clarifies Jean Boutin, President of Synergy Medical. “The company’s customers are primarily pharmacies and our product is installed in places like closed-door long-term care pharmacies, independent retail pharmacies, and large central fill production environments. Our customers also include mental health clinics, health systems, and federal correctional facilities.”

A high-turnover pharmacy in Montreal was the first institution that put its faith in SynMed. It was 2008 and before the year was through, three more pharmacies acquired the system. Two years later, the first US-based pharmacy purchased the now-improved technology and today, 30 per cent of SynMed installations can be found across 38 states in America. The majority of the robots produced so far (60 per cent) are in Synergy Medical’s native Canada, while the remaining ten per cent have been placed in Europe, mainly in the UK, where the company began trading in 2016.

Jean takes over to detail some of the core characteristics and benefits of the device: “It all starts with the accuracy of the product, which is 99.98 per cent. In comparison, one can expect a five to ten per cent error rate with manual production. It is a given that automation leads to greater efficiency; in fact, SynMed reduces production time by up to 80 per cent and pharmacist verification time by 50 per cent. In practice, with SynMed XF one technician has been shown to produce 85 single-dose and 35 multi-dose cards per hour, and with SynMed ULTRA (the high-capacity version of our automation) two technicians have been able to produce 200 single-dose and 100 multi-dose cards per hour.

“The robot is also interfaced with virtually all pharmacy operating systems and with various systems for electronic medication administration records (eMAR), which contributes to its flexibility. What is more, our software provides a lot of customization options for our customers. The ability to offer a unique adherence label and convenient blister pack helps pharmacies attract new customers, enhances customer loyalty and retention, and, effectively, generates stronger growth,” Jean points out.

“It has also been estimated that the average patient only fills 7.4 out of 12 refills of their maintenance medication for a chronic condition, but when the medications are inherently synchronised with blister packs, as is the case with SynMed, the rate jumps to an average of 11 out of 12 refills. What this means for a pharmacy, is that for every 100 patients in sync, it can expect $90,000 in additional annual revenue from the same patient base,” he continues.

Synergy Medical is a company that always keeps itself on its toes and as such, it continuously streamlines its processes. Over the last 18 months, the company has transitioned to lean manufacturing, having implemented Kaizen methodology, with a heavy emphasis on personnel technical station training.

“The impact on efficiency and quality is measurable, and we effectively doubled our production capacity.” comments Jean. “This year, we are planning to release a new verification technology as well, that will identify any potential error throughout the entire blister pack production process – from start to finish, whether it is human or system error.”

Favorable conditions
The end of February 2019 saw the close of Synergy Medical’s fiscal year, which revealed a revenue growth of 25 per cent, compared to the previous year. Significant growth is being projected again for 2019-2020 and Jean hopes that certain emerging market drivers in the US will enable his business to expand its presence in the country. He explains: “While multi-dose blister pack use is well-established in markets like Canada and the UK, less than two per cent of all oral solid medications in the US are dispensed in blister packs. The good news is that the message is finally getting through that these packs, also known as adherence or compliance packaging, are an important component to any adherence strategy.

“Over the last few years, a great emphasis on the cost of medication non-adherence has been observed. This happens on several levels. Payers want to improve drug adherence to reduce overall medical costs, while Medicare Advantage wants to improve it, in order to increase their quality-based star ratings and receive bonus payments,” Jean remarks. “Consequently, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are looking to react to their customers’ more sophisticated demands, as the latter view adherence as a critical aspect of a PBM’s performance. Then, pharmaceutical manufacturers want to optimise compliance to increase their revenue, and, finally, for pharmacies, improving adherence means filling more prescriptions, generating more traffic and revenue, and continuing to evolve as a valuable community health resource,” he brings his 25overview to an end.

With market conditions promising to remain favorable for Synergy Medical, Jean looks bravely into the future, which should see the company maintain its leadership position in its current markets, while targeting new geographical areas where blister pack use is common and automation options are few. “Germany and Australia are two countries we are willing to grow into,” he reveals. “In the meantime, we will continue to be a flexible customer-focused manufacturing company that establishes and nourishes good relationships with our partners.”

Synergy Medical
Services: Pharmacy automation for single and multi-dose blister packs