Anyone who has worked in healthcare for more than a few years will readily acknowledge that traditionally, it’s not an industry that changes quickly. As a function of the services we provide, change is often adopted very methodically, often gradually. There are two major areas in which this has been evident: one is in pharmacy supply chain; the other is in connecting pharmacy sales data to the front of the store.
In the face of mandates for rapid change, the comparatively slow adoption rate of healthcare institutions and companies has left many challenged. Data is at the core of much of these changes. It’s not that the data isn’t there, but more of a riddle of how to bring it all together to create the synergy needed in this evolving continuum of care.
Most pharmacies today are technologically segmented. In a retail pharmacy, for example, you may have different software in use for several different functions. New mandates for care, improved patient outcomes, compliance and reimbursement can demand data for a number of different needs, not the least of which is integration of data surrounding the most valuable asset in a pharmacy: prescription medications.
Meeting the requirements of this shifting regulatory and competitive environment – all while trying to maintain competitive advantage – means having access and deep visibility into the data your pharmacy generates. You may well have all the tools you think you need for inventory management, returns, recalls, hazardous data and 340B replenishment information. There’s more to be gained from visibility and central coordination of data generated in returns, recalls, hazardous disposition, policy data… the list goes on.
The challenge is that all the tools for those areas are generally separate and different and it’s tough to figure out how to get all the data to converge. Most pharmacies today simply don’t have the right tools to do all that. On the consumer/patient side, some of the toughest challenges in the mandates are those that call us to treat the patient as a whole person, accounting for the entire scope of their needs in managing their health – both food and medicine, as well as any other combinations of front-store and pharmacy.
Take the example of the data in a prescription for a common blood pressure medication. In an ideal world, that could signal the pharmacist to offer a coupon for some new low-sodium products in the store, which would also be a check-mark for efforts to improve outcomes.
Building on that, data in your system may also indicate a low adherence level for this patient and could also send a reminder to the pharmacist, the physician’s assistant you may have doing checkups in the pharmacy that day – or to their primary physician – to have a chat with them about taking their medications.
As the market addresses these challenges, and the benefits of converging disparate data streams crystallize, one question often remains unanswered. Does my new solution adequately address my end-user needs? In the blood pressure diet example above, is the solution a convenient one for the patient / shopper? Are they motivated to make the dietary changes that are being encouraged?
Central coordination of pharmacy operational data should drive operational efficiencies. Do the solutions align with the needs of store-level personnel? Are they easily implemented into current operations? Internal and external customer solutions must ensure they address existing problems, and do so in a manner that is easily adoptable by the end user.
Is it possible that one day, all that capability may reside in the various software tools operating in your pharmacy? Is it possible that your supply needs could be met by a more integrated solution and your consumer / patient management objectives could be managed similarly? Think about how these could enhance your competitive advantage in a future state where the pharmacy solution connects all the pipes and brings together the disparate data sources in your pharmacy.
A lot of good minds across the industry are working on this puzzle. So my advice is that even though the healthcare industry’s traditionally methodical, slow-to-adopt method may seem like a hindrance, in this case it may be a blessing.
The industry’s technology providers are working hard to solve this, and good things are on the horizon. Unfortunately, although some may tout “complete” solutions, they are only complete in certain corners of the pharmacy. The data in the pharmacy industry is already segmented – getting less-segmented isn’t the answer.
Is the answer looming just beyond the horizon? Perhaps. For the time being, it will be important for pharmacy managers and executives to begin thinking about what that integration should look like. That will drive more informed decisions and generate the kind of industry demand that is sure to bring about some very exciting solutions.
What do you think? Can all this pharmacy data ever be integrated effectively? Share your challenges with me in the comments section below.