Integration and automation in hospital pharmacy practice — 5 takeaways

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The demand for qualified pharmacists is growing while their role continues to expand within a hospital setting. It is critical for hospital pharmacies to integrate and automate their workflows and processes, which will move them toward a highly autonomous pharmacy and free pharmacists to focus on clinical and patient needs.

During a July Becker's Hospital Review webinar sponsored by Omnicell, two pharmacy leaders from Vanderbilt University Medical Center discussed the current state of hospital pharmacies, the vision of autonomous pharmacy, what steps must be taken to implement this vision and the benefits expected:

  • Mark Sullivan, PharmD, associate chief pharmacy officer, VUMC
  • Jon Jackson, PharmD, health IT director, VUMC

Five key takeaways: 

  1. Hospital pharmacies face enormous challenges. Struggling with limited resources, disparate systems and regulatory burdens, hospital pharmacies face significant barriers to providing care efficiently. A lack of comprehensive solutions and standardized metrics as well as workforce training issues add to the difficulties. "These barriers, together with the rapid pace of change in the industry, can distract from innovation," Dr. Jackson said. "It's time for us to return to actively participating in patient care."
  1. The vision of the autonomous pharmacy is a shift from inefficient, error-prone, manual processes to intelligent technology and automated tools that protect patients and empower practitioners. Hospital pharmacies must progress from their current state of being nonautonomous to reach full autonomy. Many pharmacies start with minimal to no automation, managing data on paper or spreadsheets and relying on practitioners to manage drug distribution. As pharmacies add bar code tracking, increase data visibility and integration and automate workflows with fewer gaps, pharmacists increase direct patient care and shift to clinical program optimization. "Daily data intelligence really moves from no data . . . to descriptive, to predictive and then finally, to prescriptive data intelligence," Dr. Sullivan said.
  1. To progress toward the autonomous ideal and enact long-term change, hospital pharmacies must focus on five key areas. First, they must minimize human touch by automating repetitive tasks. Second, enhanced digital visibility and data-based benchmarking must be implemented. Third, pharmacies must create predictive and prescriptive algorithms that are safe and effective. Fourth, seamless workflows should free up time for direct patient care. And, finally, standards must be established to drive data analytics and knowledge. Dr. Jackson encouraged pharmacies to "work together to advocate and outline how standards can help with organization adoption."
  1. IT must play a significant role in bridging the technical innovations with the clinical and pharmaceutical needs. After years of simply using technology to move records from paper to computer and assist with dosing and drug interactions, pharmacies must take a giant leap to progress toward a more autonomous state. IT strategy should focus on reducing widespread technical debt, complexity and risk, transitioning to smart and rapid execution and implementing governance and demand management. "As we cycle toward the future, making IT services and support more mobile will be key," Dr. Jackson said.
  1. An autonomous pharmacy must target perfection. Although perfection may not be achieved, pharmacies should strive for zero errors, zero waste and zero human touch for drug dispensing. At the same time, a goal of 100 percent regulatory compliance, 100 percent time spent on clinical activities and 100 percent inventory visibility should be set. Resulting benefits will be increased revenue, better clinical outcomes and improved data quality. 

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