Don’t dismiss the value of an operationally sound pharmacist

As pharmacists begin to move out of the physical pharmacy to the patient bedside I think it will become important not to forget the value of a pharmacist that is well versed in how to handle the operational side of pharmacy. Don’t get me wrong, I think pharmacists should be used more for therapeutics than for the role of physically dispensing medications. However, consider a practice model for pharmacy where technicians are more involved with the day to day operations and automation plays a bigger role in the dispensing process. In this instance a pharmacist will be needed for technician oversight as well as to control the workflow of the pharmacy. In addition that pharmacist will need to have intimate working knowledge of the automation and technology used in the pharmacy space. I don’t believe that a pharmacist needs to see every single item dispensed from the pharmacy, but I do think global oversight is necessary. There are opportunities for positive interventions in all aspects of acute care pharmacy practice.

I began my career as a “operational specialist”. The hospital where I was employed used a hybrid model of satellites and centralized dispensing. They needed stability in the dispensing area secondary to the pharmacist shortage. The pharmacy manager came to me and offered me a unique opportunity to handle the workflow in the main pharmacy from an operational standpoint. The hours were’t great, working Monday through Friday from 1:30pm until midnight, but it gave me a chance to try something new. I spent about a year in this role and found great value in the lessons learned through trying variations on the age old themes of cart fills, ADC replenishment, IV batches, etc. It was worth it.

Do I see the need for an operational specialist in acute care pharmacy? Perhaps, but not in the traditional sense. I see the need for a pharmacist trained in automation and technology with additional skills to manage people and workflow. After all, it is still important that patients receive their medications as safely and efficiently as possible. I envision a role similar to the one I’m in now, with the only difference being less focus on the clinical application of technology for a more mechanical one. Most informatics pharmacists handle both areas of technology now, but as clinical decision support, rules engines, computerized provider order entry, and so on become more prevalent it may become necessary to split the jobs into separate specialties; clinical pharmacy software and pharmacy automation and technology. There’s plenty going on in pharmacy informatics to justify such a design. Similar to pharmacists that have chosen to specialize in Cardiology or Infectious Disease, I think we’re headed for a time when informatics pharmacists will begin to tease out specialized roles in healthcare information technology.

Just a thought.

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