Confusion and varying opinions regarding the role of pharmacy in informatics remains the norm

Because I am a member of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (AHSP) I have access to the ASHP Pharmacy Informatics and Technology section listserv. Listservs are a great source of information, and as the name implies, this one is particularly good for getting information on all things related to pharmacy automation, technology and informatics.

A recent post on the informatics listserv caught my attention. The thread was started by a pharmacist asking what skills are necessary for a career in pharmacy informatics. Several pharmacists have chimed in with some great advice, while others have given what I consider to be less than helpful advice. Needless to say the responses have been all over the board as there is no universally accepted definition of what an informatics pharmacists does. Some pharmacists have recommended gaining skill in specific areas, i.e. reporting, HL7 ,etc, while others have taken a broad approach by offering advice on gaining experience in operations, project management, leadership and workflow concept and design.

Pharmacists are highly educated clinicians that deserve to practice informatics in much the same way as other practitioners do in their chosen profession. Pharmacy informaticists should be intricately involved in making sure that systems are designed to include pharmacy workflow, that reports being written provide the necessary information to be clinically relevant, that current clinical standards are adhered to during implementation of new systems, be the representative at the table during discussions of integration and interoperability of hospital systems, provide insight into new systems that can help pharmacists enjoy more freedom from the pharmacy and so on. What they shouldn’t be is the guy sitting in a room plugging away at a spreadsheet all day or fixing the fax machine when it breaks.

One piece of recurring advice on the listserv has been to be well versed in pharmacy operations prior to engaging in informatics. That’s actually solid advice as I don’t believe my perspective would be of much value in my current position had I not spent a decade working as a staff pharmacist and clinician in a hospital environment first. One caveat to this is that my experience may not translate into settings outside the acute care environment, i.e. retail. The principles are the same, but the workflows are different.

The listserv thread forced me to take a hard look at what I do on a day to day bases. It looks something like this:

  • Approximately 40-50% of my time is spent maintaining and troubleshooting, solely or in part, several systems including the pharmacy information system (PhIS), automated dispensing cabinets (ADCs), storage and bar coding technology (automated carousels, packaging, labeling), bar-code medication administration system (BCMA = MAK), automated IV preparation system and smartpumps. Most of this stuff is pretty boring and routine. It consists of a lot of data entry and requires virtually no specialized training.
  • Approximately 25% of my time is spent in meetings for new or ongoing projects. Those meetings are currently centered around the continued rollout of the our BCMA system, the initial stages of our CPOE implementation and another pharmacy redesign based on future automation, technology and space requirements.
  • Approximately 10-20% of my time is spent on report functions. Pharmacists love their data and my bosses are pharmacist, which means my bosses love data. Data mining is a part of the job. Some of the database stuff I do myself while some of it is over my head and gets punted to one of the database administrators. At that point I work with them to ensure that we get the information we need in a format that everyone can live with.
  • Less than 5% of my time is spent educating the staff. In fact I almost never do formal education as no one ever has the time. Most of it is in the form of quick drive-bys while the pharmacists are working. It’s not optimal, but it works.
  • Less than 5% of my time is spent implementing technology that I consider cool. I’m specifically speaking about the use of mobile technology, tablet PCs, the iPad, etc. The time spent here is the most rewarding personally, but is often times viewed as non-productive in the eyes of many. So it is limited to what I can squeeze out of it. Regardless, it’s worth the effort.

And there you have it, a day in the life of an average IT pharmacist.

A good place to get information on what role a pharmacist should play in informatics can be found here (ASHP Statement on the Pharmacist’s Role in Informatics).

2 thoughts on “Confusion and varying opinions regarding the role of pharmacy in informatics remains the norm”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.