SPHS 7 10 17 Patient Care

Pharmacy Students Learn How Information Technology Can Improve Patient Care

Technology is changing much of society, including the delivery of healthcare. As Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences students are discovering, it also is creating new opportunities for pharmacists to improve patient care and increase their professional impact. Many of these students are learning to leverage data derived from today’s technology through the pharmacy informatics (PI) certificate program available as part of KGI’s pharmacy education.

This certificate program exposes them to pharmacy automation, including robotic medication dispensing systems. Students are also introduced to the electronic health record (EHR) and health information systems, learning about the types of health data included on the EHR, how this is entered and stored, and the ways different clinicians work with the record.

“They learn all the EHR can do, including help pharmacists identify patients who are at high risk for adverse effects or on a therapy that could be replaced with something more effective,” says Professor of Practice Robert Stein, who teaches health IT and related law and ethics courses. “They understand what goes on behind the EHR and can work credibly with informaticists who aren’t necessarily pharmacists, find ways to use information in novel ways, and more efficiently care for patients.”

Stein notes that the first group to complete the didactic portion of the health IT certificate program consisted of 17 third-year pharmacy students. Among them was Stacey Van, who says, “I chose the certificate because it’s versatile, unique, and important. It’s helping me gain a better understanding of an innovative field that utilizes data, information, technology, and evidence-based medicine to optimize patient-centered care.”

Viraj Patel wanted to learn about pharmacy informatics for similar reasons. He explains, “It’s a new field with a lot of opportunity to streamline processes, prevent medication errors, and make an impact. Hospitals everywhere use pharmacy informatics. This gives me a very important tool on my belt that I could use in all settings. I feel I have more of a competitive edge that allows me to stand out from others. The skills I’m developing also help with problem-solving.”

Through class projects, they and other students are able to gain practical exposure to working with health information systems and pharmacy informatics. In Stein’s EHR course, he plays the role of a health system chief information officer who asks the students to research and evaluate vendors to identify which offers a system best able to function seamlessly across clinic and community settings, then present their findings. In his law and ethics class, they focus on a hypothetical contract involving a pharmacy IV preparation system for a large health organization, examining the contract from the perspectives of the vendor and purchaser.

“This prepares pharmacists for dealing with vendors if they work in pharmacy informatics. There’s a possibility that graduates will get involved in these decisions,” says Stein.

The future pharmacists also learn the importance of recognizing the EHR’s impact on other clinicians with whom they may work as part of an interdisciplinary team. Stein explains, “As pharmacists, we need to understand the entire medication-use process, including the pain points for physicians who enter medication information and nurses who are charting and administering medications, and how to improve workflows. Traditionally, pharmacists were only interested in what happened in the pharmacy. But today, not only do we need to work with others, we also need to understand their issues and make changes where we can.”