Ep 2 - Healthcare IS Speaks with Jerry Fahrni on Pharmacy IT

Nov 18, 2014 12:00:00 AM · by David Kushan

Take a moment to hear Jerry Fahrni tell his story of experience in Pharmacy IT. He tells us how he came to be in the field of Health IT, what challenges he worked through and observed and what advice he would share with someone looking to break into Pharmacy IT. You can also follow Jerry’s Blog at www.JerryFahrni.com.

If you like what you hear or have an opinion of your own, don’t be afraid to leave us a comment below! Who knows, with your great input you might find yourself joining our guests with an interview of your very own.



Listen to the episode here: Healthcare IS Podcast

*See the full transcript at the bottom of this blog. 

Episode highlights:

  • The difference between an I.T. Pharmacist and an Informatics Pharmacist
  • When a pharmacist attempts to transition into Pharmacy IT and does not succeed
  • The biggest surprise for most people who get in to this area of Pharmacy..
  • Can a retail pharmacist transition to an Informatics Pharmacist Role?
  • Does familiarity with a particular software or technologies or devices a facility is using matter?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages for an IT Pharmacist working in either the IT department or the Pharmacy?

You may also like: Ep 1 - What's the difference between an I.T. Pharmacist and an Informatics Pharmacist? - Interview with Dave Wolfe, IT Pharmacist Consultant


Healthcare IS Podcast Episode 2 Transcribed: Jerry Fahrni on Pharmacy IT

Jerry is a Pharm D. He received his degree from UCSF 1997. He was a pharmacist in an acute care hospital setting for about 10 years and while in that hospital transitioned into a pharmacy IT for three additional years resulting in 13 years total. Jerry is now a product manager working at Talest and has been with the company for the past two years. He is interested in all kinds of technologies especially those with the potential to advance a pharmacy practice. Jerry blogs regularly at his site www.JerryFahrni.com I read it regularly for the great information there. Jerry shares his opinions on all sorts of things but he’s very frequently introducing new technologies, processes and methodologies that are happening out in the market place that I find very valuable and I think you will too.


1. In your opinion, what is the difference between an I.T. Pharmacist and an Informatics Pharmacist?

In the purest sense of the form the informatics is about collecting, analyzing, pushing and pulling data and information technology is more about the hardware and the software focusing more on how the operational things work inside of technology. If you look closely those terms are really interchangeable inside a pharmacy.

There’s no really great definition or differentiation between the two and that’s indicative if you look at ASHP the name of their section is the ASHP section for pharmacy informatics and technology and if you look at job descriptions their all over the board.

Honestly, those two terms currently are interchangeable. I think the job in itself is in its infancy and so as it continues to grow I don’t know if those are eventually going to be separated back out or not. That’s currently how I see the difference and similarities between those two terms. So if you’re talking to somebody and you say informatics pharmacist or IT pharmacist you’re basically talking about the same person.

2. What originally attracted you to this area of pharmacy?

It kind of just happened. I was always the guy that was tinkering with stuff as far as the technology goes and trying to figure out ways to pull data out of systems, use things a different way, and at one point I worked specifically in operations and as I picked up projects they always seemed to be IT related inside of the pharmacy and I always just seemed to be interested in it. I had an interest in it at home, I had all the toys and all the little gadgets and things like that so it just seemed like a natural fit for me.

As I was working along in my career an opportunity presented itself where a hospital was looking for somebody to specialize in this area. For me, after being a clinician for ten years, I was looking for a change of pace and it worked out perfect. Once I got into the position I realized that I really enjoyed it and I actually enjoyed it more than working inside the pharmacy by itself or even or even working up on the floor. So it was just a natural fit for me and I felt very comfortable doing it. There was never any question once I decided.

3. Was there ever a time when you weren’t sure if this was for you?

There were times (laughs), there were definitely sometimes where I questioned the decision. Over all it was great but for example it’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of things that go along with doing that type of work. It’s a little disjointed. The very first time I was on a call over the holiday, I had to reset someone’s password at 2 o’clock in the morning, that’s when you question if this was a great idea or not.

That happens and you’re the guy responsible for a lot of different things. As a pharmacist you tend to do your job and you worry about things when you leave and you go home but you don’t obsess about them and the work doesn’t follow you home. When you’re working in the IT side of things it tends to be 24/7.

You go to work you spend your eight or ten hours there and when you come home there are still little things that can creep up on you.

3. When a pharmacist attempts to transition into Pharmacy IT and does not succeed, why do you think that is?

You know I personally think it’s the same reason people have a problem in any type of job; I think you have to have a passion for it and a desire to do it. Because it is so different from what most pharmacists do you have to really have a mindset that this is what you want to do.

If you get into it and you think of it as just another job another 9-5 way to make some money, I think that’s where they fail. In this type of a role you have to have a passion for it, a desire to do it and a certain mentality. Like I said it’s different from any other type of pharmacy I’ve ever practiced so that’s to me the key factor. You just have to love what you do.

4. What one or two things were not as you expected when you first got into this profession?

(laugh) you know I think the fact that what an IT pharmacist does is still a not well defined surprised me when I first entered pharmacy the roles were well defined. “This” is what you do on a day to day basis. You come in and you take care of business.

When I moved into the IT side of things it was kind of all over the board. There was such a huge range of things that you did and it was different from day to day. Things just continue to pile up basically and as you went down your check list your check list continued to grow. I’m a very check list kind of guy, I liked knowing the three things that was going to accomplish. I would get through those three and ta-da it was a successful day.

Well, when I moved into the IT role I checked off those three things and there were four things below it. I don’t think I expected that.  Its continual change with no end in sight if that makes any sense. That was the one thing that caught me totally off guard.

5. If you were talking to a colleague who was thinking about getting into a Pharmacy IT or Informatics role, what piece of advice would you give them that you don’t think they are currently aware of.

Number one you have to be willing to work alone a lot. Because systems typically don’t have more than one IT Pharmacist you end up making a lot of decisions on your own and you end up doing a lot of things by yourself. The other thing which is completely counter intuitive is you end up being involved with a lot more groups of different healthcare professionals than you ever were when you worked as a pharmacist.

As a pharmacist I interacted with physicians and nurses. When I moved into the IT Pharmacy role I continued to interact with physicians and nurses but now your also interacting with the IT department, insurance, lab and ADT. Just your exposure to different areas of the hospital grows significantly.

I remember the first time I went to a meeting and I was the representative from pharmacy. I was sitting around a table with the C suite and they were talking about implementing some new system in the hospital and that was the first time I had ever been exposed to something at that level.

 I would warn pharmacist that if they were going to go into this role, that they are going to be exposed to a lot of different things they’ve just never seen before.  

Dave: I’ve heard that from time to time and that it certainly widens to scope of things you need to take into consideration.

It does and you know it’s funny cause at the same time it really gives you a peak at yourself to see where your weaknesses are and a lot of people don’t really think they have a lot but once you jump into that role you realize very quickly what you don’t know and don’t understand and it becomes apparent pretty fast.

6. What do you think is the biggest surprise for most people who get in to this area of Pharmacy?

The biggest surprise to me was how many systems don’t talk to each other in the healthcare system and how much goes on behind the scenes to make that happen.  The work load is tremendous. I didn’t realize there were that many different systems within one healthcare system.

When I was a pharmacist I would enter an order and poof by magic I got something out the other end. I got the warnings that I needed, the order was shipped to the nurses on the floor, it made it to the automated dispensing cabinets and it was just magic. I had the admission information from the patient and I had their medical history in front of me.

When I got into the IT role I was just shocked at the number of different systems that were needed to make that happen and just the sheer number of bodies that it took to keep it up and running. That surprised me a lot.

7. Can a retail pharmacist transition to a hospital and bring any value in an Informatics Pharmacist Role?  What value “could” they bring?

I go back and forth on this a little bit. Throughout my career, and this is just in general for hospital pharmacy, retail pharmacists in general have not fared well in the hospital environment because it is so different from what they are used to doing.

With that said, I would not think that a pharmacist that has spent a lot of time in retail would be able to transition well into an acute care IT pharmacy role.

I think experience has a lot to play in the acute care pharmacy IT role. I think experience in operations and clinical duties helps you to do your job.

A retail pharmacist coming over would lack that experience and that knowledge of just generally how things work.  So I don’t think it would be an easy transition for them. Most retail guys in a hospital that I have worked with typically have not done well and moved on so I think the same thing would apply here.

Dave: I appreciate your opinion on that. I know that might not be what they want to hear but maybe good to know. Or at least it can provide folks coming over into that environment it will give them some things to think about and better prepare themselves if that’s possible.

With that said I think there’s an untapped opportunity in the outpatient ambulatory care area that IT pharmacists have not explored. I do think there is an opportunity out there for those guys to get involved on the ground floor. As far as I know that doesn’t exist yet.

8. Is an Informatics Pharmacist who is familiar with the software or technologies or devices a facility is using bring more value than an experienced Informatics Pharmacist who is has no specific familiarity with what the facility has in place?

No, I don’t think so. I think it’s nice to have it in the short term. If you have something going on and you need somebody it’s always nice when they have that experience in the short term because they can get up and running pretty quickly.

I think a certain skill set along with some clinical acumen and just good logic skills is more valuable than having working knowledge of a system. You can take someone who is very intelligent, well rounded and with a lot of experience and they can learn about the system. That’s not a problem. You can take somebody who knows somebody about a system but if they don’t have the ability to pick up the rest of the stuff around them I don’t think you have gained anything.

I think it’s nice to have, if you can get it, it’s great with a lot of the other attributes. But if you have somebody that’s just very good at what they do and sharp who can pick things up, I don’t see a problem with that. 

9. What are the advantages and disadvantages for an IT Pharmacist working in either the IT department or the Pharmacy?

That depends on who you talk to. If you’re asking me I think it’s better to have the IT pharmacist in the pharmacy. The reason I say that is because you close to what’s going on.

The last job that I had as an IT pharmacist my office was literally across the hallway from the pharmacy and I spent a lot of time in the pharmacy which makes sense to me because you’re working with the systems that are in there. Pharmacists were willing to come across the hall and talk to me because I was easily accessible.

In the same building across the street was the IT department, so we were actually physically separated by 100 yards and I think that would have been a barrier for me. The previous pharmacist that had may position at this hospital worked in the IT department and they felt that that was just not a great fit for how they wanted to work.

Now I’ve also talked to some other pharmacists who think it’s better to work in the IT department and I understand that if that’s the way they want to go. But I think there’s times when you just want to be in the pharmacy and you don’t know when those times are. So I think to be accessible to those guys and to be around those guys I just think that’s the way to work. So in my opinion I think it’s better to be in the pharmacy.

10. Can you think about times or specific situations (particular projects maybe or cultures or circumstances) where it would be better to work in the pharmacy department or the IT department as an IT or Informatics Pharmacist? 

Definitely, I didn’t just barricade myself in the pharmacy. There were times when I actually had a cubicle in the IT department when we were doing testing, installing a new system or looking at a new database design. I would actually set up over there anywhere from days to a couple weeks at a time specifically when we were doing our CPOE implementation so that I could work with the people who were trouble shooting those systems.

Proximity counts but then on the flip side  in terms of maintenance and the day to day operations I think it was really important for me to be right across the hall from the pharmacy or even in the pharmacy for that matter. It was easy for the technicians to come across the hall and say ‘Hey I’ve never seen this before, would you come take a look at it.’ It took me 30 seconds to walk over there and eyeball it myself which gives you something you don’t have if your separated physically by the pharmacy I think there’s a disconnect there.  So absolutely I think there’s benefits to being in the pharmacy but I think there’s times when it’s ok to be over in the IT department and I think you have to be able to make the decision which time works best for what.

General, Consulting, Healthcare IS Podcast, Interviews, David Kushan


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