Self-assessing the size, scope of a high-volume pharmacy automation solution
The needs of pharmacies looking to incorporate high-volume automation into their central fill or mail-order prescription fulfillment process vary from operation to operation, Innovation executives and Binghamton University faculty members said at a symposium held earlier this month at the university’s Watson Institute for Systems Excellence.
“Pharmacy is complex,” Innovation director of software systems engineering Alecia Lashier told the more than 60 people attending the two-day event. “We all have the same problems, and at the same time, we face very different problems.”
Factors ranging from the number of stores that will rely on a system to whether the prescriptions being filled are small orders, large orders or specialty drugs all need to be considered when looking to design an automated solution, she stressed.
“Solutions should be engineered to meet your unique requirements,” Lashier said. “Only then will you meet your goals.”
To help identify what will work best for each pharmacy operation, Lashier and Innovation pour over terabytes of data that is unique for every potential new customer. Particular emphasis, she said, is placed on transactional data to ensure that Innovation creates the correct system for its clients. However, she stressed, even that approach is not foolproof.
“Big data is great, but it also has points in it that are inaccurate,” Lashier said. “You need to scrub those points before you decide on how to design your system.”
Lashier, who talked about the unique requirements of each system, said that scrutinizing a pharmacy’s transactional data is crucial because of the importance the nation’s healthcare system is putting on driving patient outcomes.
Understanding pharmacy transactions linked to quality measures that improve outcomes leads to enhanced reimbursements, Lashier and other presenters at the symposium said. By driving outcomes, a pharmacy can demonstrate that it is an integral component of a patient’s healthcare team and qualify to be paid for more of the services it provides.
“All of us involved in health care are involved in improving three things: population health, patient experiences and per capita costs,” Dr. Leon Cosler, the founding chair of the department of health outcomes and administrative sciences at Binghamton University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, said.
“Transactions are the cornerstone of any healthcare information system,” he noted. “Health care increasingly will use analytics to drive clinical and operational improvements to meet business challenges.”
Academics and Innovation engineers said that no step in implementing an automated pharmacy system is as crucial as the design alternatives phase. Between half and three-quarters of a system’s life-cycle costs are discovered during this process, they noted.
Ensuring a system’s capabilities can not only accommodate a pharmacy’s current needs, but also be able to handle evolving requirements and workload increases going forward is central to getting the right system, they stressed.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone fall in love with a machine and then go out and find the demand to make it run,” Innovation project manager and engineer Matt Warner told the audience, stressing that potential users of high-volume pharmacy automation need to clearly identify their requirements and the constraints they may face. Such factors as the size of the facility in which the system will be located, a company’s budget and ensuring that a pharmacy’s current operation is not affected by the addition of automation are just a few of the components that need to be explored, he said.
“A ‘deliver it now and fix it later’ approach will often manifest itself in lack of throughput,” Warner said. “Requirements drive the technology, never vice versa.”
Binghamton’s new pharmacy school to ‘take profession to new level’
The soon-to-open Binghamton University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will take the profession to a new level, founding dean Dr. Gloria Meredith told attendees at the joint Innovation/BU symposium on change management for pharmacy operations earlier this month.
“We're not going to be just another pharmacy school,” she said. “The idea is to create something unique; something that will impact the profession.”
Scheduled to open in May 2017 in the Johnson City Health Science and Technology Innovation Park in Johnson City, N.Y., just west of Binghamton, N.Y., the pharmacy school will include three departments — pharmaceutical science, health outcomes and administrative sciences and pharmacy practice. Meredith said she expects enrollment in the four-year PharmD program to range between 85 and 90 students a year. In addition, there will be 30 to 50 students working toward a PhD. Classes start in August 2017.
The school will have 32 faculty members, she said — 17 in the pharmaceutical science and health outcomes department and 15 clinical faculty members.
With pharmacy continuing to evolve, courses at the BU school will focus on the changing aspects of the profession, immersing students in the latest practices and technologies, and giving them exposure to course work and outside experiences that will position them as central players in the healthcare system of the future.
“Our goal is to establish an internationally recognized pharmaceutical sciences research program and train the next generation of pharmacists [to be] well-versed in drug development, prescription and patient monitoring, and health outcomes,” Meredith said.
For example, she noted, the school will focus on the development and implementation of emerging technologies in the drug development pipeline, including biomarkers, preclinical efficacy and innovations in clinical trial design and conduct. In addition, she said she expects the school to work closely with nonprofit groups and for-profit companies.
As evidence-based medicine becomes the underlying principal of American health care, and pharmacy moves from being a product-based system to one that is knowledge-based, classes will focus on such clinical practices as health information technology, rural health, telehealth and preparing for the day when pharmacists have provider status.
Meredith said that students will receive robust rotations, working in retail settings, acute care hospitals, home infusion sites and specialty pharmacies. In addition, there will be an emphasis on interprofessional education with pharmacy students working closely with schools of nursing, social work and the SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y.
The ultimate goal, Meredith said, is to ensure that as pharmacists continue to play a more central role in the nation's healthcare system, BU graduates are fully prepared for what lies ahead.
“Pharmacies are embracing new technologies, especially pharmacy automation,” she said. “These things have to be introduced at some stage of the pharmacy education.”
Innovation executives were ecstatic about the new school being right in their backyard. They said it will enable their teams to gain an up-close understanding of pharmacy duties — for example, non-productivity centric activities, such as medicinal and therapeutic practices; practice compliance and dynamics; socioeconomic attributes, etc. — and actively participate in the pharmacist development process. This will result in new insights and opportunities, and potentially facilitate customer recruitment and Innovation staffing needs, including internships.
PrescribeWellness adds 5 members to Pharmacy Advisory Board
- Shelley Bailey
- Hugh Chancy
- Leon Claywell
- Pete Crouch
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