Healthcare technology is an enabler of safer, effective and more efficient care providing a means to empower patients, liberate healthcare providers and breakdown barriers between healthcare settings.
Community pharmacy was an early adopter of technology recognising the value in automating and streamlining the labelling, ordering and management in community pharmacy practice in the 1980’s. That desire to harness and apply technology has not dissipated with pharmacy businesses redoubling their efforts today to meet the efficiency challenges raised by the NHS’ recent approach to funding for the sector.
As an IT supplier we have a privileged and unique insight into how community pharmacy is adapting to the opportunities and challenges that technology provides. We also have insights from having worked closely with pharmacies, into what it is that Pharmacies need from a technology perspective. We are seeing a growing number of customers approach us for help in developing IT solutions for their pharmacy. We are frequently being asked for more intelligent solutions that can deliver usable data for the management of workflows, stock, medications and patients; and integration pieces that facilitate closer working, and end-to-end solutions with other healthcare providers and third party suppliers. System users are also asking for improvements to the front end of their IT systems to help them manage and prioritise their workloads more effectively. Customers will often come to us with pre-conceived ideas about what it is they are trying to achieve, but lack the technical expertise to configure a solution around their current systems. It usually takes a team approach with both parties contributing to the process in order to find the best solution for a particular pharmacy’s workflows.
So what can are we seeing evolve and what can we expect in the future?
The single biggest change we have witnessed recently has been the democratisation of healthcare data and systems opening the vault to patients and the public. Through its regulatory requirements, the NHS has compelled GP systems to provide access to appointments and prescription re-ordering to their patients. This trend is now being seen in pharmacy with the growth in patient facing apps which promise to connect patients with their pharmacy, medicines and services. There are three propositions here:
- That we can put patients in control of the process of ordering and fulfilling prescription requests and thereby provide opportunities to support patients with medicine adherence;
- That patients will want to use new channels to access services, book appointments and manage their nominations;
- That there are opportunities to inform, educate and support patients with disease specific, general health & wellbeing advice.
Our role as system supplier is to work with our customers to understand how these new solutions fit within their businesses, how they could and should integrate with their core systems and what steps should be taken to ensure that any integration safeguards the critical sensitive data that may be shared.
An example from our recent projects involves integrating our Pharmacy Manager PMR with Healthera; an innovative patient facing app which allows patients to manage their medication ordering and adherence. By encoding dose and medication information into a QR code which is printed on the dispensing label a patient using the Healthera app will be able to set up reminders and prompts using the app.
Sharing to Join Up Healthcare
As a system supplier we work closely with NHS Digital to understand their strategy and objectives for pharmacy in England in order to ensure our customers continue to benefit from national initiatives. An example of the potential for innovation and change comes from NHS Digital’s programme to support the Integration of Pharmacy across Care Settings (IPaCS). This programme has identified specific areas where there are opportunities to use open standards to allow information to flow from and to pharmacy from other settings, for example to enable a hospital to notify a pharmacy of a change in medication on discharge, or for a pharmacy to inform a GP of a vaccination delivered to a patient. Our customers embrace the opportunities that being connected to the wider healthcare system brings. Our job is to provide tools to support new workflows, and interfaces to allow information to flow securely in a standard form between systems.
An example from our work with East Lancashire Hospitals is the Refer-to-Pharmacy initiative which connects over 135 pharmacies to the hospital trust allowing discharge information to flow to pharmacies who provide NMS or MUR to support patients as they transition out of hospital. This system also supports the reduction in errors and omissions when medication is changed or initiated in hospital.
Falsified Medicines Directive
The Secretary of State for Health & Social Care has recently announced initiatives to reduce and mitigate risk of harm from prescribing and dispensing errors. One strand that will impact pharmacy in the near future is the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD).
Barcode scanning is going to be affecting pharmacies across the UK regardless of the size of their business in the next few months as the Falsified Medicines Directive fast approaches, and this particular example assures us of what is achievable in the required timescale to ensure pharmacies have a way of scanning items to decommission them at the point of handout. Whilst FMD is seen as a threat we are working with our customers to turn this into an opportunity.
One such example is a large multi-site retailer who approached us for help in developing an EAN barcode scanning solution for their pharmacies. A collaboration approach meant we worked together to strip back their requirements and understand the impact such a change in their IT solution would have not just within their PMR system, but also on a system user at a store level. We worked closely to not only develop a solution but also to ensure the testing and deployment of the solution ran smoothly. The end result delivered significant benefits to this customer in terms of stock control, and gained a huge positive response from pharmacists who appreciated the additional level of security the solution also gave them in preventing dispensing errors.
We are also working closely with automation partners to ensure we have effective open standards to enable pharmacies to make use of robots in their dispensaries. Enabling this supports those customers looking to achieve efficiency savings in MDS and Care Home supplies where large numbers of patients need a lot of medicines to be de-blistered and tray packed. These time consuming processes detract time away from patient facing opportunities where a Pharmacist or Technician could be delivering more value.
Business Information & analytics
Where there is technology there is data. Whilst pharmacy has been quick to see the benefits of technology we have not been as quick to use the data that is collected and processed to drive our businesses and take decisions. We are finding that our customers are now considering how their data could be used to provide insights into their business, improve operations and drive efficiency. One example is in the management of stock within groups.
A move to service based contracts
Following on from the recent changes to funding for pharmacy in England, the PSNC has begun to explore whether the sector should adopt a contract which achieves a better balance between the supply and services functions. As a pan-UK supplier we have experience of working with our customers in Scotland to do just that over the last 5 years. The current supply led contract is easy for the NHS to measure and monetise. In order to move to a services based contract it is necessary to have similar systems and processes to measure and monetise the delivery of services.
Our work with Scotland to support the Universal Claim Framework which embeds the services workflow for pharmacy services in the PMR and provides a standardised workflow for claiming payment.
This is an exciting time to be at the heart of the healthcare industry, with technology offering so many new opportunities for pharmacy professionals to use their skills in innovative ways to deliver a truly patient-centric care system.
It is clear that the role of IT in pharmacy is advancing rapidly. IT is one of the most adaptive elements of a Pharmacy and the enabler when it comes to implementing change making it an essential piece of today’s pharmacy toolkit. As the Pharmacy profession continues to expand its remit as a high value healthcare partner, keeping abreast of these changes to ensure continued success is vitally important.
First published in Today's Pharmacist Magazine (Spring Issue)