Pharmacists Join Healthcare's Technological Revolution

  • Article by: NANCY CROTTI , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: March 18, 2010 - 5:24 PM

Pharmacists have been slower to embrace information technology than some other healthcare professionals, but experts behind a growing movement to expand and improve pharmacy students' IT education say it will improve patient safety and support better medical decision-making.

Jennifer Boehne, PharmD, was appalled when she first saw the software that pharmacists had to work with. The former business workflow analyst realized while in pharmacy school that informatics would make a big difference.

Informatics generally means processing and managing information using technology, and has already revolutionized other aspects of patient care, healthcare communications and research.

"We can do a lot of things to improve patient safety and to help prevent adverse events by ensuring drugs are prescribed and dosed appropriately" using informatics, says Boehne, a former Twin Cities resident now doing a pharmacy informatics fellowship in Boston.

"Electronic health records are allowing us to capture an enormous amount of data," continues Boehne. "It's up to us to find ways to make this data useful and improve clinical decision support."

Experience, Understanding And Expertise

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (www.ashp.org) offers a number of resources pertaining to the emerging field, yet very few U.S. pharmacists have the full complement of informatics skills and training to perform effectively in these roles, according to Mark Siska, R.Ph., MBA/TM, assistant director of informatics and technology for pharmacy services at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (www.mayo.edu). Pharmacy informaticists require broad and extensive pharmacy practice experience, a deep understanding their employers' healthcare processes and expertise in the design and implementation of clinical information and automated systems, according to Siska.

"To find individuals who have a broad enough understanding and knowledge of those three domains is difficult," Siska says.

He and others continue to work with the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy to include a richer blend of informatics courses with in the school of pharmacy curriculum. The University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy (www.pharmacy.umn.edu) offers informatics as part of a third-year class, but may offer it earlier in the curriculum and expand the instruction, according to college spokeswoman Amy Leslie.

A Local Connection

North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale (www.northmemorial.com) began offering students a five-week residency in pharmacy informatics last fall, under the preceptorship of pharmacist Greg Carlson. A veteran pharmacist, Carlson developed an interest in computers in the 1970s and later developed an interest in pharmacy informatics.

"I think the future of this job of mine will be people with computer degrees and pharmacy degrees," he says. Boehne agrees that there is an increasing demand for pharmacists with strong clinical and informatics backgrounds.

"Pharmacy informatics helped me combine my passion for designing and developing tools and software with my love of pharmacy," Boehne says. "The opportunities in pharmacy informatics are endless."

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