Crowdsourcing pharmacy: automation, technology, informatics

redlegoI travel for work a couple of weeks a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. Most of the time I travel by myself, but recently I found myself traveling, albeit briefly, with another pharmacist. He and I ended up in a little pub one night talking about work; products, strategy, gripes, likes, and so on. Typical stuff when two guys get together and talk about work. After a while the conversation turned away from work and toward pharmacy in general. Just two guys talking about stuff that’s interesting.

A few drinks and several bowls of popcorn later we had covered a lot of interesting pharmacy topics including acute care pharmacy operations, telepharmacy, medication therapy management, insurance company billing, specialty pharmacy practice and so on. There were several interesting ideas figurative sketched out on the back of a napkin that night. This type of comradery is good for the creative process as I’ve mentioned before.

The entire ordeal got me thinking about doing this type of thing on a much larger scale; crowdsourcing if you will. I’ve talked to a lot of intelligent pharmacists over the years, and their cumulative experience and brain power could go a long way in generating innovative solutions to a lot of what ails pharmacy.

The solutions to our problems won’t come from engineers, programmers and marketing people. I’ve been down that road already. It simply doesn’t work, for reasons that I won’t get into here. Instead solutions will come from the people that work in the environment each and every day. Some of the most valuable conversations I’ve had over the past couple of years have come from pharmacy technicians and pharmacists. They understand the issues and have some great ideas. Sometimes they just need a nudge to get them talking.

The concept of crowdsourcing – collectively tapping into the intelligence of many people to generate concepts, ideas and solutions – is nothing new. It’s been around for years, but I don’t think it’s ever been applied to pharmacy, especially not to concepts around new ways to approach pharmacy automation and technology. I’ve recently read articles about using crowdsourcing for medical literature as a way to improve the dissemination of information in a timely manner. Couldn’t something similar work for pharmacy? Possibly.

Pharmacy practice is a lot like a box of Legos, i.e. a bunch of loose pieces that have to be put together in a certain way to make something meaningful. Unfortunately different people will build different things. Put a bunch of kids in a room with a few thousand Lego pieces and you’ll end up with some pretty cool crap. Put a bunch of smart pharmacists and technicians in a room with a few thousand pharmacy pieces and hopefully you’ll end up with something similar. You never know.

Automation and technology are different than therapeutics. They lend themselves to outlandish ideas that don’t have to conform to the scientific method. In fact, it’s probably better that solutions to these types of problems don’t follow some tried and true method of discovery. Now that I think about it I should probably consider crowdsourcing from other industries like refrigeration, logistics, robotics, nanotechnology, etc. That would be an interesting gathering.

The difficulty however, is how to create an environment of creative thinking. It couldn’t be formal, as good ideas rarely happen on queue. BBQ burgers and a beer, or Diet Pepsi as the case may be, would likely produce better results. It’s worth a shot. If nothing else it’s worth some good food and good company.

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