Ep 4 - What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages for an IT Pharmacist Working in either the IT Department or the Pharmacy?

Mar 25, 2014 12:00:00 AM · by David Kushan

That’s just one of many questions we addressed with Ron Burnett in our latest Healthcare IS Podcast. Ron has been a practicing pharmacist for the last 29 years. Primarily working in hospital pharmacy practice, he has also done work in home infusion and the retail space. With 14 of those 29 years spent in the informatics space, Ron comes with immense insights from all angles of practicing pharmacy and our country’s implementation of informatics in hospitals.

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 3 - Can a retail pharmacist transition to a hospital and bring any value in an informatics pharmacist role?

Q1 – In your opinion, what is the difference between an I.T. Pharmacist and an Informatics Pharmacist?

When I hear the term I.T. Pharmacist I think of a pharmacist working in the I.T. department as an analyst, who may or may not use a lot of their clinical background.  When I hear the term Informatics Pharmacist I think of a clinically-trained pharmacist using that knowledge to improve information systems as they relate to the medication-use process.

Q2 – What originally attracted you to this area of pharmacy?

I’ve always enjoyed the technical aspects of information systems and I saw this as an opportunity to combine my love of pharmacy with the enjoyment I receive working with applications and information systems.  

Do you recall what that specific project was at that time?

Actually we were implementing Cerner Classic on a mayo site that I was at.

Q3 – Was there ever a time when you weren’t sure if this was for you?

Not really. I was really worried about the decision prior to making it and prior to starting it. Once I started, I went to work for a third party consulting firm and when I started training I really loved it. I was lucky and got in at a really early time and had a lot of opportunities and never looked back.

Q4 – When a pharmacist attempts to transition into Pharmacy IT and does not succeed, why do you think that is?

I think there are a lot of reasons that I have seen where it didn’t work out for some people. A lot of times it’s as simple as the opportunities that were provided to the pharmacist or the engagements they were assigned initially. I think sometimes, that it’s just not a good fit for the individual. They may think they’ll be practicing pharmacy one way and then realize it’s a totally different side of pharmacy.

Q5 – What one or two things were not as you expected when you first got into this profession?

I think travel was one of the biggest surprises to me.  Prior to becoming a consultant I didn’t travel so much and I really glamorized it. Once I got on the road I quickly learned that there’s no glamor in travel. It can be one of the most tedious and difficult parts of consulting and certainly I see that as being one of the largest complaints from other consultants at times.

Q6 – Right I hear that quite a bit and I guess just to be clear all the way around you knew there was going to be significant travel getting into it, right?

Absolutely, I expected about 80-100% travel and was really excited about seeing a lot of different cities and traveling across the country and out of the country. And still I say that’s one of the negatives but it’s also one of the nice things. I’ve seen a lot of really nice areas but most of the time you’re traveling to sites where you’re working almost the entire day so you don’t have a lot of time to actually visit the area.

Q7 – 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.

If they were traveling I’d really stress the impact that travel has on your life – both professional and personal. It can be a challenge and it can be very rewarding too. So I think it’s important that they understand travel is a means to allow you to do something you may truly love. So for me when I travel it’s putting up with the nuances of a flight delay or bad weather or just being worn out from an eight hour day of travel because I get to do something that I really enjoy.

Whether they were traveling or not, I’d stress how important it is to look at the ‘big’ picture as you perform your job.  As a pharmacist it’s easy to focus on what’s best for your department but when you practice in informatics you have to weigh what’s best for the prescriber, nursing, pharmacy and all other stakeholders.  

You mentioned travel a few times and about how your perception changed from where it was prior to doing what you’re doing from a consulting stand point but you’ve been able to endure it for a period of time.  Is there anything you’ve learned over that period of time or anything that you’re doing today that’s different from before that actually helps?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I think that’s the biggest thing. When I travel now and a flight gets delayed or a flight gets canceled you take it with a grain of salt you just move on. I think that has to be the most important thing because people get do worked up and so upset over a delayed flight or maybe a situation with a rental car and it’s really not worth it. It’s part of what we do.

Q8 – What do you think is the biggest surprise for most people who get in to this area of Pharmacy?

I think the first thing that comes to mind is the first thing that comes to mind is the impact that we can have as informaticists in the delivery of healthcare. I knew from working with computer systems how important they were but it wasn’t until I was actually working on implementations and helping to drive decisions that have long lasting effects within the hospital. When you stop and think about it, that was an epiphany.  

Q9 – Can a retail pharmacist transition to a hospital and bring any value in an Informatics Pharmacist Role?  What value “could” they bring?

I think it would be an incredible challenge to do so. Whether you’re already in a hospital setting, a new graduate or working retail for a number of years, I think the most important thing that you can bring to an informatics role is a really strong background in hospital pharmacy practice. You have to understand the needs of those stakeholders like the physicians, nurses, and how the departments in the hospital work and interact with each other. You also need that strong understanding of pharmacy operations so you can help develop solutions that meet the needs of the pharmacy the nurse and the prescriber. So with all that said I really feel strongly that a retail pharmacist or a new graduate coming right out of school serves themselves best by going to work in a hospital pharmacy department for a few years and gain that operational experience and then go into an informatics role.

Q10 – Does 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?

What a great question. I think I’ll have to work my way through the answer. I think an experienced Informatics Pharmacist can bring a fresh outlook to a hospital using challenges they faced during other projects including what they’ve seen at other sites.  However, a pharmacist familiar with the hospitals technology and processes already understands the intricacies and challenges facing the project and has an understanding of system functionality and limitations.

So I think it’s easier to teach an experienced informaticist new applications and work flows that they can use at a specific site rather than teaching a pharmacist who’s already familiar with the processes in software at a site new experiences from software at another site.  

To answer your question directly I think an experience informatics pharmacist probably brings more to the table because they have so much experience from other sites to draw from.

Q11 – What are the advantages and disadvantages for an IT Pharmacist working in either the IT department or the Pharmacy?

I have worked within the pharmacy department occasionally it’s maybe only 10% of my time but I have worked at facilities that have pharmacists in the pharmacy department working on informatics and also on the IT side.

I’m not so sure there’s an advantage or disadvantage I think there are certain challenges that we face in those situations. I think it goes back to the question we had earlier, where we talk about the need to think just outside your departmental needs and consider ramifications throughout the medication use process.

So I think when you have a pharmacist working in the pharmacy department there is a risk of having misaligned priorities when you look at the overall institution.

However on a personal note there’s potentially more gratification with informatics within the pharmacy department because you have the opportunity to work directly with your peers.

Q12 – 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?

I think the best arrangement I’ve seen at larger hospitals is to have an Informatics Pharmacist working within a Clinical Applications or IT department who is responsible for the EHR while another pharmacist works within the Pharmacy Department specializing in more pharmacy-specific systems such as the ADM, Robot, or IV Workflow System.  However, most hospitals can’t afford to place two pharmacists in an informatics role so I often see some hybrid of this model.

Q13 – As an independent consultant, can you tell me why you feel working as an independent is a better scenario for you as oppose to working as an employee of a consulting firm?

Another great question, when it comes right down to it there isn’t a lot of difference in being an independent versus being an employee.  For me, I enjoy running my own business.  I enjoy keeping my own books, managing my own travel, and having the freedom to plan my time off as I see fit (taking client needs into consideration of course).  I enjoy working hard and building my reputation as an independent.  I find it gratifying when others seek me out for my services.  The downside to being an contractor is that you have to accept a higher level of risk.  You are responsible for getting your own clients and keeping those clients.  I’m comfortable with that level of risk.

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


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