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Rebaked PIE…Pharmacist Industry Engineer


It’s not always about how much money a business makes; oftentimes its more important to understand how much money the business can save.

I asked a Pharmacist the following question:

“Who is probably the most famous and richest industrial engineer? Your hint… he grew up in Mobile, AL?”

He paused and thought about it for a few moments…

Then he said, “I’m not sure…who?”

I said, “look at your smartphone… Tim Cook  ring a bell…”

Tim Cook…iPhone…ring a bell…”HAHA.” I know…I know…so funny, not really. Our discussion began when he asked me about my experiences in B-school (business graduate school).  I discussed various points in my journey as a manager, and how I sought some  answers to my many managerial questions. B-school helped fill some of those gaps.

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Quantitative Analysis for Managers I explained was an interesting but difficult course. I really had to work hard to put all the concepts together. It was business math on steroids.  A taste of algebra with a pinch of calculus and a dollop of excel spreadsheet.  One week we were discussing linear programming models; the next week we were discussing transportation models.

I felt like I could study all week for the tests, and still not feel good about my prospects of passing. The Professor would allow us to have a formula cheat sheet, but that was of little  value.  The course took time and was intense. The tests were tough. He ended up curving our final grades that semester.

It was tedious work. It took time to wrap your mind around some of the concepts; but studying those concepts gave me satisfaction. My mind was being pushed and thats what I wanted as a student. It made me appreciate the skill and art it takes to make complex business processes less complex. I began trying to understand the formulas behind business principles. I enjoy learning about a Professor’s educational background. It always explains why some concepts just feel so natural to the teacher/lecturer. Turns out our Professor that semester was an expert in the field of industrial engineering. I had heard about civil engineering, chemical engineering, electrical engineering, etc.. But I had never heard of industrial engineering.

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Pharmacist in general have an appreciation for math and science.  So I decided to show my Pharmacist “buddy” an old video on linear programming that the Professor had uploaded on the web. The Pharmacist became “giddy” with anticipation on how to setup the correct mathematical equation to reach an appropriate business decision based on profitability.

We then lightly touched on transportation models

I said, “driving a 18-wheeler seems simple enough…but then imagine all the routes and paths those trucks can take to get to their destination.”

He said, “yea…that’s right…isn’t that why some mail couriers only take right hand turns? That’s why they have people doing that research…think of all the money they save on gas, and all the time they save by making routes more efficient…”

I said, “you know where most of these principles fall under? Industrial engineering…”

Industrial engineers bring science to our everyday lives by engineering efficiency; they use math to bring order to a process. Pharmacists practice the same methods with medications. We ensure patient safety by being the medication experts of the healthcare team. We bring order and create efficiency in the dispensing and consumption of medications.

So what’s stopping Pharmacists from reaching our full potential as the “industrial engineers” of drug management? Gaining status as “healthcare providers” will go a long way in creating a structure for the reimbursement of our services. But until that “provider status” reaches all 50 states; what can our Profession do to show the “system” our value?

Currently the market is focused on volume to magnify shrinking profit margins. However, the market will gradually shift to a focus on reducing costs. In part because rising costs will lead to skyrocketing debt in our current healthcare model. The market is at risk of collapse due in part to rising medication costs.  While we can’t control how Pharma prices new drug regimens.. Pharmacists can be on the front lines of change by initiating the following principles:

  1. Limit “defects”–use “lean” principles to ensure patient safety and accurate dispensing of medications with appropriate operations management principles
  2. Improve discharge planning—ensure patients receive the appropriate medications upon discharge.
  3.  Improve access—ensure that upon discharge from hospitals or clinics; patients have access in the community to the appropriate medications from local pharmacies, mail-orders, and patient assistance programs.
  4. Engage in dialogue with prescribers—regarding the prior authorization process, formulary additions and deletions, an analysis on patterns seen at the pharmacy in the local community.
  5. Build an alliance—with social workers, churches, community organizers so that when patients need help the Pharmacist can give guidance.
  6. Data mine–effectively gather data about medication usage and prescriber patters; then turn data into usable information to enhance quality of care.
  7. Reduce expense—have an active engagement in knowing the costs of medications, and the copay tiers of pharmacy benefit managers. Have an active discussion with patient’s and their families regarding their ability to manage these expenses.

There are more PharmD’s graduating with dual degrees; Pubic Health, Business, and Law. There are more PharmD’s entering pharmacy school having already obtained a bachelors degree. The “Millenial PharmD” has the potential to step outside the box to meet the changing demands of the market.

My version of the Pharmacist Industry Engineer (PIE) does not epitomize  the traditional meaning of Pharmaceutical Industrial Engineering   in that traditionally the framework of the definition was focused on manufacturing for “Big Pharma”.  I simply seek to use this term to reframe how we are defined as agents of change in the current marketplace.

A PIE as defined by me—both optimizes and individualizes pharmaceutical care, creates new processes to improve pharmacy access, improves operations to ensure patient safety, and builds communication channels with both prescribers and patients to reduce waste and expense for the individual and healthcare system.

Efficiency. Accuracy. Reduced Defects. Reduced Costs. 

 

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Sam Blakemore is the Pharmacy Manager of Peds Rx Pharmacy Solutions. Connect with him via: LinkedIn

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