The Role of the Pharmacist in Health Informatics

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Written by Dr. Lawrence M. Pawola, PharmD, MBA

Department Head
Director of Graduate Studies

As the role of the health informatician continues to emerge, a variety of clinical content areas are realizing the value of “someone wearing the informatics hat.” Among the professions leading the charge is Pharmacy where the focus on safety and clinical decision-making data has become expected standards of practice. As computer use in Pharmacy is almost universal and data are collected in all therapeutic settings, the recognized impact of technology has facilitated the profession into exploring new ways to use what is already available.

In the last 25 years, healthcare has realized there is more opportunities to utilize the Pharmacist professional than just “filling the order.” It is not surprising this realization has paralleled the proliferation of technology in pharmacy supporting the profession’s advance toward a clinical specialty responsible for medication management safety, techniques, policies, and oversight. The various IOM reports published during the last 20 years and the development of software to collect and report data as a by-product of the dispensing function contributed to advancing pharmacy automation. As technology progressed over the last decade the pharmacist informatician has emerged as the “go to” professional responsible for obtaining maximum results from the pharmacy technology investment.

Informatics in the broadest sense is the science that combines computer technology, content, and social context. This is more than just an academic term in that the practice of informatics has evolved into a global requirement in those organizations which view data as a strategic asset to provide evidence supporting decisions. In healthcare, this requirement now includes business and clinical data as strategic assets. Pharmacy is without exception and has cultivated a need to assess both business transactional, medication, and clinical data.

Besides scouring various databases and developing reports which answer the multitude of medication management and safety questions, the pharmacist informatician is intimately involved in developing algorithms which support therapy protocols, maintaining rules and alerts which are the essence in offering effective clinical decision support, and assuring all aspects of pharmacy technology are working to the fullest degree possible. The latter includes robotics, dispensing carousels, secure drug cabinets, filling machines, medication product tables, and patient education, among others, all working seamlessly while sharing and providing data to all clinical professionals.

Pharmacist informaticians also have significant involvement in assessing operations to identify opportunities for greater efficiency. Not unlike other clinical roles in our health system, pharmacy needs to do more with the same, or less. The pharmacist informatician should have extensive skills in work/systems analysis, process optimization, and project management to work with other clinical professionals so they have full appreciation of the opportunities available through the use of technology in the most advantageous manner possible.

The job market should be bright for pharmacist informaticians as more healthcare organizations, insurance providers, emerging ACOs, technology suppliers, and consulting firms, among others, need experienced professionals to satisfy decision-making needs. A plethora of data are now rapidly becoming available in many healthcare and related organizations; informaticians are needed to effectively and efficiently seize the opportunity for organizations to become more data-driven.