What type of techie are you?

Technology is a funny thing. It’s as diverse as it is interesting. Like many other disciplines, the field of pharmacy technology offers a host of options for pretty much every taste. And not everyone considers all types of pharmacy technology interesting, which has become abundantly clear to me as I continue to meet more professionals in my field.

My opinions on certain key pharmacy and automation technologies are clearly in conflict with many of my friends and colleagues. It’s an odd thing being in the minority and it can drive someone to think their ideas are wrong. However, after serious consideration I realized that the main difference between many of my colleagues and myself is that I tend to be drawn toward hardware based technology while they are drawn toward software technology and regulatory affairs. While it’s true that I like playing with certain types of software, in general it doesn’t have much to offer. Thinking about how to make a piece of software easier to use might be interesting, but if you really think about it that is a gray area between software and hardware, i.e. user interface not necessarily software functionality. That’s probably some type of human engineering discipline to be sure, but I don’t have an official term. And let’s face it, regulatory affairs is simply boring. It’s a necessary evil in healthcare as every governmental agency thinks they need to regulate pharmacy and medicine with more rules then you can shake a stick at, but there really isn’t a while lot you can do with it besides learn it and use it.

I like the concept of provider order entry (CPOE) to be sure, but the software itself is terrible. I’ve spent some time with a couple of CPOE systems and the interfaces look like something out of the early 1990’s. As our facility moves forward with CPOE implementation I find that I’m more interested in developing of the process, some of the integration strategies and the actual implementation than I am the software. The same can be said for clinical decision support (CDS). I like the concept, what it has to offer and how it should interact with other systems, but I find that sitting in front of a computer terminal moving massive amounts of data from one place to another or making sure the right box is checked or unchecked really isn’t all that interesting. The logic behind CDS is interesting, but not the software itself.

Sitting in front of a computer screen for 10 hours plugging numbers into a spreadsheet or writing little snippets of code doesn’t appeal to me. My brother, on the other hand, is a born hacker. We spent a few marathon “coding sessions” while working on RxCalc. Fortunatley for me he has a tremendous talent and love for writing code and I know a thing or two about pharmacy. If I would have been the one writing the code the project would have been doomed to failure. I think he realized this early on and was kind enough to remove me almost completely from the coding process. He tasked me with the workflow and verification of the math, equations and the other pharmacy related issues which I found interesting.

This may help explain my choice of chemistry as an undergraduate major. Once I set foot in the lab it was all over. The hands on experimentation trumped everything else. Pharmacy automation has the same feel to it. The carousels, packagers, bar-code scanners, robotics, tablet PCs, iPads, etc all offer a level of enjoyment that I don’t typically gain from purely software based technologies. One can physically touch these technologies, while many of the software applications offer little in the way of user interaction. I do enjoy cloud computing applications, but I believe it’s the concept that I enjoy not necessarily the applications themselves. Actually I’m sure of it. The same could be said for social media. The applications don’t thrill me, it’s the use of social media as a tool to expand my knowledgebase and connect with other professionals that I find intriguing. The software itself has done little to expand my mind, while the adoption by healthcare professionals as a tool for sharing information has. Now throw in the fact that I can use any device at anytime from anywhere to access this information and it become interesting.

So there you have it. I’m sure there are some gray areas, but what type of techie are you? Are you a software junkie, a hardware junkie or both? The question isn’t as difficult as you might think. As my wife put it to me, “if you could purchase one piece of technology right now what would it be?”  Oh, that was easy.

4 thoughts on “What type of techie are you?”

  1. The engineering you’re referring to is called UX, or user experience. It’s what separates a truly usable, elegant, piece of software from a piece of junk.

  2. Hi Jerry. Rob’s your hacker brother, I take it? He’s spot on about identifying UX, but between UX professionals you will still find a spectrum of practitioners who exercise more or less degrees of artistic license.

    Pharmacy informatics applications ought to be prioritized for domain knowledge accuracy first, then sexy cool second, while fully cognizant of the specific workflow contexts your application is trying to address. You MUST ensure data reliability and workflow performance are not compromised in any way through the UX design process.

    Some bad software are actually very appropriate if integrated into a compatible workflow. I like to regard UX as 3 parts: information, interaction, and interface design.

    What a coincidence, that’s exactly what my consulting service provides!! :wink:

    I’m also teaching 1st year pharmacy students this term to design, prototype, and evaluate pharmacy IT solutions. I’d love to update you later if you’re interested, and please let me know if you identify opportunities for collaboration down the road!!

    Keep up your blog posts.
    Danny Ho

  3. Hi Danny,

    Thanks for the information. I agree 100% that accuracy of the information in clinical, actually any, system and functionality should be primary concerns. I’ve been a pharmacist for a while and have used some pretty ugly systems, but have always worked through the user interface problems.

    I do believe, however, that users of the system should be included in any and all design aspects. Who better to understand the needs of a pharmacist than a pharmacist?

    Good luck with the 1st year pharmacy students; should be interesting and fun. I would love to be kept up to date on how things go and I’ll definitely keep you in mind if I come across anything requiring your talents.


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