After another busy year in pharmacy, now is a good opportunity to pause and reflect on some of the macro technology trends that are driving change in the industry
New Internet developments have been transforming the pharmacy experience from the 1990s on, when the Internet first hit our shores. This year will be no exception, with the Internet continuing to deliver new services in the form of cloud computing.
In 2017, pharmacy will see three trends become increasingly visible, relating particularly to medications reconciliation and business agility as well as the move towards the purchase of pharmacy software services rather than expenditure on capital items.
Medications management apps: improving your clinical data
The most significant trend in community pharmacy technology in 2017 will be the provision of apps that improve medications management in clinical practice in Australia, making it faster and easier, with greater accuracy and coordination of data. Medication reconciliation in particular is one of the key services that will be strengthened as a result.
Industry has been calling for this ability for decades, and the ramifications will be huge. Pharmacists will have greater access to patient medication information than ever before, and as a result will be in a stronger position when conducting medication reviews and compliance checks.
There are many scenarios where this will be useful, for example, reducing possible confusion as patients transition between different points of care, or when a GP has de-prescribed one drug, and another practitioner has re-prescribed this without knowing the background. The ability to provide practitioners and patients with a complete list of their current medications, and with records of all medication reconciliations completed, will be a significant step forward.
This change is occurring as a result of two related developments. The first is the continuing investment by the federal government in the My Health Record. This should deepen the pool of patient medication data available to health professionals, which provides an ever more accurate diagnostic picture for professionals.
The second is the launch of complementary apps which bring together a patient’s medication data from multiple sources, such as GPs, hospitals, pharmacy and the My Health Record. Fred’s new medications list will be the first cab off the rank here with the launch of our new web-based app MedView early this year. MedView evolved out of the early MedView trials in the Barwon Region of Victoria in 2012 which tackled the lack of visibility of clinical data between different sectors.
As a result, you will be able to view a single consolidated medication list for patients from within your dispensing software. Because these are web-based apps, you will have the same clinical diagnostic ability in-store and on patient visits, whether these are in the home or in a hospital or aged care setting.
The macro technology trend here is about data. The nature of the cloud means that we can use data to deliver new services and solve age-old problems faced by health professionals, with the obvious caveats regarding patient consent and compliance with privacy requirements. This ability to use the cloud to deliver new data-based services is where the most significant opportunities for innovation in pharmacy and health will occur. Significantly, the results of services can also be added back to the patient’s MyHR.
Thanks to pharmacy’s successful adoption of electronic transfer of prescriptions over the past seven years, the amount of data available is growing exponentially, with community pharmacies and GPs contributing 4,000-6,000 new data records per second around Australia – not a number to be sneezed at.
Numbers will continue to soar as hospitals around Australia begin to transition to electronic transfer of prescriptions. Victoria’s Royal Children’s Hospital was the first to integrate with eRx and they are now sending all discharge prescriptions to eRx to make them available to community pharmacies across their large catchment. More hospitals are following this lead.
Trend 2: The cloud and business agility
In 2017 a second major trend will see pharmacies switch more and more of their business services to the cloud, simply to strengthen their ability to respond quickly to opportunities and risks.
Nobody is immune from the risk of data loss or corruption – for many, it is a case of hoping for the best, whilst planning for the worst. The cloud is widely acknowledged in industry as the best practice solution to protecting your data by storing and encrypting it off-site. Your systems constantly speak to the cloud to send and receive updates, which in practical terms means that your patient data is continually and frequently backed up. Similarly, software updates such as anti-virus patches can be put in place much more quickly than via traditional means.
It can take a single visit to a suspect website or a single click on a suspect link in an email to leave you open to the possibility of malware or a virus which can pose a major business risk for your pharmacy. Or, worse, ransomware, where hackers encrypt your data and you are expected to pay a ransom to have it returned again (call the police and your IT provider if this happens to you). So too, issues such as computer failure, network problems and data corruption are hard to predict and can cause major problems for your pharmacy operations.
The reality is that cloud computing is not only about back ups and risk management but is equally about opportunities. New opportunities and threats are both unpredictable and require a fast response. This is business agility – the ability to seize opportunities as they arise, whilst also protecting against threat – and it is here that the cloud provides most value to business.
As a result, one of the key technology trends in 2017 will be that pharmacies increasingly move their business systems, such as pharmacy management software, HR and financial and business management systems, to the cloud along with their protective aspects such as security and virus protection.
Technology trend 3: Software as a service
The third trend is the shift away from investing in capital technology. Instead, pharmacies will increasingly look to services that can be purchased through the cloud. This is the software as a service business model, which has become a major buying trend in terms of how we choose and consume services.
Applications such as Spotify, webmail, Facebook, Netflix and iTunes are all examples of the types of cloud-based services that have become part of the status quo of the web-based life that we lead today. Rather than buying the CD or DVD, as examples, you simply pay to access music, movies and so on when you want to.
The key with these types of apps is that you can sign up for and choose the degree of service that you want. Usually this occurs via a monthly subscription that allows you to turn on and off the aspects that you want, and then to review and make changes at the end of the month.
In the same way that people have migrated to apps such as Spotify and Netflix for music and movies, businesses are taking a similar approach. By the end of 2017, this will increasingly be how pharmacies choose and manage their technology services.
We have seen varying degrees of this in pharmacy over some years. Think about the way your pharmacy’s use of accounting and bookkeeping software has changed over recent years, from the purchase of software that you had to download, install, configure and keep up to date, to new web-based platforms, such as Xero, Quickbooks and MYOB Cloud. These have various plans that you pay for online. You can use them instantly, turn them off whenever you choose, and only pay for what you use. In addition, you don’t need to worry about backing up your data or downloading new software, as these occur automatically. Similarly, with the consolidated medications list described above. This is a core feature of MedView, but in addition, you will be able to choose any number of other aspects that you can trial and use, such as Paperless Claiming which is a cloud-based service to help you archive and manage your prescriptions.
Where to from here with technology trends?
The cloud has the potential to radically shift how we manage services and technologies. Longer term, there is considerable potential for innovative use of data-based services to eradicate a number of operational and clinical hurdles faced by pharmacists. Yet in the short term, it is vital that pharmacy embraces such changes so as to remain a key player in your patient’s medication management.