Quick Hit: Thoughts on NEPS labeling solution for pharmacy

I wrote about the NEPS labeling solution for pharmacy way back in May of 2009. The product basically extends the functionality of the pharmacy information system by giving users the ability to print custom labels for medications through the use of different fonts, colors, and images. It’s well thought of in certain pharmacy circles. In the hands of the right people NEPS can be an effective way to create some pretty cool labels. In the hands of others it’s a good way to create confusion.

In a nutshell NEPS takes all the data fields from a pharmacy system and places them in a “super record” where they can be used to create custom labels via a semi-WYSIWYG user interface. The reason I say semi-WYSIWYG is because the software, actually NiceLabel Pro has some issues that don’t exactly make it WYSIWYG. Sometimes your label looks like the image on the screen and sometimes it doesn’t. It reminds me of the good old days when my wife and I used to design bulk labels for our Christmas cards using some generic label maker software. If you were lucky you’d get what you thought you designed.

On the positive side NEPS utilizes some logic on the back end of the system that allows users to make use of a scripting language to make things appear on the label under certain circumstances. An example might be having the word “REFRIGERATE” appear on a medication label for a vaccine. It’s a nice feature, but has created some of its own issues.

I’ve been using the software for the last three weeks to design new labels for the healthcare system I’m working for. Since I only work about two shifts a week, and realistically each shift equates to about six hours of work after distractions, meetings, calls, etc, I would say that I’ve put in about 36 hours on the label designs. I honestly thought it would take me about 10 hours. Guess I was wrong.

So what’s taken so long? Good question, and one that I keep asking myself. Here’s how I see it:

  1. There’s no good way to design label segments, save them and reuse them on other labels. Many of you may not know this, but there are several different label types in an acute care pharmacy. There are labels for IV piggybacks, large volume parenterals, TPNs, syringes, and non-injectable medications. Not to mention separate labels to notify the pharmacy of patient transfers, discontinued orders, take home meds, and so on. And each one of these labels require slightly different pieces of information. However, there are several things that are the same, namely the header and footer. The header in this case consists of a barcode, the name and address of the pharmacy, a place for a “Cytotoxic” notification and a place for the word “STAT” when the need arises. The footer is where place holders for the technician’s and pharmacist’s initials are located, the date and time the label was generated, who touched the order last, and so on. Unfortunately there’s no way to create a perfect header and footer, save it, and simply reuse it when you need to create a new label type. The process is manual, time consuming, labor intensive, and frustrating. When the label designer, i.e. the boss, decides that the header of the label needs to be changed, the monkey doing the work has to touch all ten label types separately. It’s happened several times.
  2. The method for setting up the printer for the labels is the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. To take advantage of color, NEPS utilizes the Epson SecurColor Printer (the TM-C3400). It’s a great printer, but there are several different places where changes to the settings have to be made for everything to work out right. Lots of check boxes and settings create an interesting array of nooks and crannies where mistakes are just waiting to pounce. I spent the better part of an hour today attempting to make a single setting change. For the life of me I couldn’t get it figured out. Even pulled in another IT pharmacy guy for help. We both failed. I got it working by the time I left for the day, but what a complete cluster. Dude, seriously, have one place to go to make changes to printer settings.
  3. No way to generate images. NEPS has this great ability to make use of images on the label using “if-then” statements in their strange little scripting language. Unfortunately NEPS doesn’t give you a way to generate any of the images. I ended up downloading GIMP and using it to create all the images I needed. You’d think for the price NEPS would have some rudimentary image maker.
  4. The editing tools inside NiceLabel Pro are straight out of the 90’s, maybe the 80’s. Making adjustments to a data field requires one to walk through multiple screens of “settings”; variable length, size, color, etc. It’s enough to make a grown man cry. Would someone please tell me how to make the box around a text field show up in different color? What the heck man. NEPS actually has a way to do that, but it requires an overlay with a little bit of fairy dust sprinkled on top. Why can’t it be more like Microsoft PowerPoint, for example. I can make some really nice slides in PowerPoint using all their little tools. Just a thought.
  5. The documentation blows. There’s no other way to say it. One of the first things I asked for when I was assigned to this project was access to all the software documentation. I’m pretty good at picking things up if I can sit down and work my way through it. You know what happened when I asked the dude for documentation? He snickered and said he’d send me what he had. It wasn’t much.
  6. The support isn’t exactly what I’d call stellar. The guy I’ve been working with is competent enough, but he seems as interested in this stuff as I am in reading romance novels.

Is NEPS worth it? Heck if I know, that’s up to the facility to decide. I have no vested interest in this project. I’m just the monkey doing the typing.

1 thought on “Quick Hit: Thoughts on NEPS labeling solution for pharmacy”

  1. Interesting. I think the problem is the business model. When sites purchase DataRay they are not just buying software but expertise, experience, and manpower. We have experience doing all of these things and yes it would be a pain to learn it all just for one site. We already have previous formatting that has worked and we understand how it is best implemented. Sorry if it is too late for your facility, but I would recommend others start with DataRay.

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