Winston Churchill had great insight when he said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Although he was talking about seizing opportunities during the darkest hours of World War II, there are parallels to today, especially when thinking about the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare organizations have learned—and continue to learn—much about the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. healthcare system during a prolonged crisis. It would be unfortunate if we didn’t use this information to usher in much-needed change.
Looking back on the past two years, it’s fair to say that hospitals, health systems and other healthcare organizations struggled to handle the rapid changes in patient volume, cascading staffing shortages, evolving treatments and vaccines, and persistent supply chain issues. These challenges have led to unprecedented treatment delays, rising care costs, and frustration from patients and healthcare teams alike. The long-term effects have yet to be seen.
Even though we are still wrestling with many of the challenges posed by the pandemic, we have the opportunity as an industry to learn from our experiences and improve in ways that will help us respond faster and more effectively to the next crisis, whatever form it may take.
The Pharmacy is One Area Where Applying Lessons Learned Could be Beneficial
Even though medication is the primary treatment modality for numerous conditions, modernizing the pharmacy has not been a top priority for healthcare organizations. The pandemic certainly brought to light that the old way of pharmacy, often reliant on manual, error-prone processes, must evolve. A more efficient pharmacy built on an intelligent infrastructure of automation, intelligence, and expert services, will better position this key function to respond faster to challenges, plan a broader role in clinical care, and ultimately enhance outcomes.
Here are three ways we can learn from recent healthcare challenges and build a more resilient pharmacy.
1. Leverage data intelligence. By leveraging data that already exists across the care continuum, health systems can strengthen medication management and mitigate risk. Data intelligence tools that analyze key information, such as expiration dates, medication location, therapeutic use, drug volume, and dispensing rates, can paint a picture of the pharmacy supply chain. The increased visibility into an organization’s data can identify excess inventory, prioritize dispensation based on the expiration date, uncover stock-out risks, and inform purchasing decisions. Pharmacists can use these tools during a healthcare emergency to create an electronic dashboard that shows the existing supply of critical therapies, allowing the pharmacy to communicate with the rest of the organization about which medications are available, which ones are in short supply, which ones could be substituted, and so on.
2. Deploy the advanced technology. Even though robots have been used in other areas of healthcare with some success, hospitals and health systems have struggled to implement this technology in the pharmacy. However, with recent advancements, the opportunities to use robotics to improve medication management are growing. For sterile IV preparation, in particular, robotic technology has advanced to the point it can compound faster than humans while enhancing accuracy and sterility. With economics being more challenging than ever for hospitals and health systems, these solutions can drive a cash flow positive return out of the gate by reducing reliance on 503B outsourcers and reducing OR medication waste.
The safety and efficiency benefits of medication management technology are well known but adopting this technology through an “as a Service” model allows health systems to better optimize staff efficiency and reduce challenges caused by labor gaps. Experts specifically dedicated to managing robotic technology lead to faster time-to-value and ongoing optimization, freeing existing staff for other, higher-value tasks.
3. Expand the role of the pharmacist. Although implementing technology is an important step in optimizing pharmacy operations, healthcare organizations need to reimagine the role of the pharmacist.
This idea is playing out on a national scale with two bipartisan pieces of legislation that aim to give healthcare provider status to pharmacists in certain situations. The legislation recognizes that pharmacists can help other healthcare providers deliver certain types of patient care when there are primary care provider shortages. This might include medication management, point-of-care testing, immunizations, and chronic disease management. If passed, these bills would permit Medicare to pay for services already being reimbursed by a number of commercial payers in several states.
Granting healthcare provider status to pharmacists could help alleviate healthcare disparities. It could also pave the way for strengthening healthcare delivery models that could be deployed in a crisis. As new emergencies arise, there may be opportunities for pharmacists to engage in care delivery, supporting other clinicians and helping patients who don’t have access to primary care services receive timely interventions during uncertain times.
The Pharmacy Stands at a Crossroads
Healthcare organizations have a decision to make. They can continue to rely on outdated, manual methods that hinder productivity and increase risk, or they can seize the opportunity for technology to transform pharmacy operations, elevating the role of the pharmacist. By introducing automation and leveraging data intelligence, organizations can improve consistency, efficiency and resilience while freeing pharmacists to operate at the top of their license. This transformational approach can improve patient care in the short term and better prepare healthcare organizations for whatever comes next.
About Dennis Wright
Dennis Wright is Senior Director, Product Marketing for Omnicell, and is responsible for leading product marketing efforts for Omnicell’s portfolio of automation, intelligence, and technology-enabled services solutions. These technologies support the intelligent infrastructure that will deliver on the vision of the Autonomous Pharmacy. Mr. Wright holds a bachelor’s degree from Thiel College and an MBA focused on marketing from The University of Pittsburgh, Katz School of Business.