For decades, doctors dispensed paper prescriptions to patients, who then took them to pharmacists to fill.
But technology, fueled by the increasing use of electronic health records, now allows physicians to communicate directly with pharmacists to improve patient care by administering medications more efficiently and accurately.
The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists classifies this new technology as pharmacy informatics, which describes the integration and shared use of patient information and data as it relates to administering medications.
Filing an electronic prescription is just one facet of how pharmacy informatics is changing the medication-based area of healthcare.
Informatics plays a vital role in a pharmacy’s daily routine, helping update and maintain existing records, staying on top of medication warnings, and assisting with documentation of formulary products and pharmacy billing.
Working in conjunction with electronic health records, pharmacy informatics can help produce system alerts and standardized orders while also helping prevent unnecessary labs from being ordered.
At the Cleveland Clinic, a multispecialty academic hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, pharmacy informatics has proven effective at better programming infusion “smart” pumps — medical devices that automatically dispense critical medications — to avoid errors and to prohibit any secondary medications from being inadvertently administered in tandem with a high-risk medication.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs uses pharmacy informatics in dispensing controlled substances by requiring a two-stage authentication to ensure proper distribution.
Also, the Carillion Clinic in Virginia is using the federal EMR (electronic medical records) system to allow for direct collaboration between providers and pharmacists once a patient is discharged. In addition to being able to review a patient’s full medical history and current medications, the pharmacist can talk directly to the doctor about continued care.
As implementation of the federal HITECH Act continues to add more providers from every U.S. state, the need for skilled pharmacy informatics specialists will increase. Such specialists will be critical to helping develop, implement and apply technology to improve and expand traditional pharmacy practices.
According to the website Electronic Health Reporter, pharmacy informatics has the potential to revolutionize the entire pharmacological industry.
A new generation of pharmacists educated in both informatics and pharmacy may be able to spend less time working on traditional tasks such as physically dispensing pills, which can be automated, and more time working directly with patients to improve their health.