Are we seeing the final days of standalone systems in pharmacy?

I’ve used many standalone systems in the pharmacy throughout my career. There was a time when it was considered the norm, but things are starting to change.

I’ve seen a significant shift in thinking over the past couple of years. Hospital pharmacies are tired of dealing with multiple databases, the inability of one system to easily shuttle information to another, and broken interfaces, i.e. “interface is down”. I’ve talked to several pharmacists over the past few weeks that are no longer looking at functionality, but instead are seeking integrated ecosystems to run pharmacy operations. And they’re willing to give up functionality to get it.

The concept of integration across a system is nothing new. Consumers have known about it for what seems like forever. Why do you think people get tied to certain product lines, i.e. “Windows” or “Android”? I’m a Windows guy, but can’t seem to divorce myself from Android because of the incredible ecosystem of products that Google has built around the browser.  For the first time in my career I’m seeing similar sentiment in the pharmacy.

In the past, the pharmacy information system (PhIS) was chosen based on best-of-breed functionality, but that’s no longer the case. The PhIS has simply become another piece of the overall electronic healthcare system. Pharmacy directors no longer have a choice for their pharmacists, and instead are presented with a system that will be used across an entire healthcare network. Even the verbiage to describe the pharmacy system is changing. I’ve heard the PhIS referred to as the Pharmacy Order Entry (POE) system and the “pharmacy module”. Definitely a change is thinking.

Recently I’ve seen interest in integration spill over into the cleanroom with i.v. workflow management systems. Hospitals are starting to consider products based on integration more so than other key functionality such as imaging, gravimetrics, etc. Acute care pharmacies want safety in the i.v. room without the headaches associated with bringing in yet another disparate system.

Of course there are still several areas where integration is lacking. It will be quite some time before a company can conquer all areas of the pharmacy. Wholesaler ordering, inventory management, ties between the pharmacy and automated dispensing cabinets, controlled substance management, refrigerated storage, etc. remain areas where integration could be better.

With that said, things could change in the next few years as there was significant discussion among vendors at ASHP Midyear in December around the topic of integration. Companies in the pharmacy space are scrambling to ensure that their customers have the ability to easily insert new systems into the fold without interrupting workflow. Companies that offer products for pharmacy operations are working frantically to create integrated platforms for their own products; you’d be surprised how poorly products from the same company are integrated with one another.

The advantages to an integrated system are obvious, they’re significantly easier to maintain for a host of reasons, and that has become a primary interest to the decision makers in acute care pharmacies. Companies should take note, being the best-of-breed may no longer be enough. It’ll will be interesting to watch what happens in the couple of years. Then again, pharmacy has never been known to set any records for speed when making changes. Only time will tell.

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