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Pharmacy needs place at table in project management
Be creative in finding staffing resources
Hospitals both large and small need to have pharmacists who have information systems skills to work with projects involving the installation of new medication distribution technology, an expert says.
For larger hospitals, this might involve having dedicated pharmacy staff working in an information systems (IS) department. For instance, Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD, has four pharmacists who are dedicated to IS work, says Brendan J. Reichert, MS, RPh, assistant director of med use informatics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
While most hospitals cannot afford the luxury of dedicating fulltime pharmacists to this role, they still should make it a priority to find a role for IS-trained pharmacists.
"Smaller hospitals might say they can't designate a pharmacist to work on this project for three months," Reichert notes. "They are concerned about how to backfill that position when they pull pharmacists for the project."
Ideally, hospitals will have a pharmacist involved with projects that impact the pharmacy. The pharmacist's role could include managing the project, coordinating meetings, or requesting changes in projects.
But even without fulltime staffing resources, there are practical ways hospital pharmacies can enhance their own involvement in project management, he adds.
For instance, hospital pharmacies could have job-sharing arrangements in which a pharmacist does information services work part of the time, Reichert suggests.
"For individuals to balance that and get pulled into operations and keep up with the maintenance and project then you have to have an understanding that the individual cannot spending all of their time building a clinical system," Reichert says. "They also cannot work on it for an hour, get interrupted and then return to it."
Ideally, IS pharmacists should have a block of time to devote to IS project work, and this should be separated from their other pharmacy work.
Smaller hospitals also can consult with pharmacist IS specialists when they're installing new technology, he adds.
Another option is to put pharmacy students in this role, Reichert says.
For a pharmacy barcoding project, Johns Hopkins Hospital had a pharmacist oversee the project with the help of pharmacy students, he notes.
"The pharmacy students would take any medications that would expire in the next three to four months and bag them up and test a barcode on everything in that system," Reichert says.
"We were going to a bedside barcoding system and had to build a database of all the medications in the system," he explains. "So, for acetaminophen, for example, we would bag up those bottles that would expire and educate the staff to use those first."
Nurses would pull acetaminophen, chart the medication, linking the correct medication with the barcode, he adds.
"We had to go through a couple of thousand line items to make sure everything was barcoded and linked up because we wanted a greater than 90% scan rate on all medications," Reichert says. "So we had four or five summer interns and student nurses working on this project."
New employees waiting to be licensed are another good resource to use for these kinds of projects.
"We found some hospital employees who were waiting to be licensed," Reichert says. "The hospital had helped them through nursing school and promised them positions."
Pharmacy directors can identify such employees by calling the hospital's human resources department and asking if there are any employees who are available for a special project.
"We contacted our HR department and were told they had two nurses waiting for a trauma critical care fellowship to start and were available for the next two or three months," Reichert says. "We also found nurses who had hurt their backs or legs and could not take care of patients, but could do this kind of work."
The IS projects also could use part-time employees.
"Let's say you have a mother who works for you two days a week and only can work specific hours, maybe after dropping her kids off at school," Reichert says. "You could have her come in at 9 a.m. and work for six hours a day."
There also might be some project work that part-time employees could do at home, he adds.
Other staffing resources include employees who are on accommodated work programs or who need jobs with minimal lifting.
"I'd bring in these workers to free up my staff so my technicians would be available to do other things in the pharmacy," Reichert says. "You could show that person how to answer the phone."