Growing Your Hospital Pharmacy Analytics Program

In a recent webinar by Becton Dickinson, a panel of pharmacy experts discussed how hospital pharmacy departments can start and grow a robust analytics program.

A robust hospital pharmacy analytics program can improve drug utilization and advance patient care delivery. In a webinar by Becton Dickinson held on June 16, expert pharmacy leaders discussed the critical elements of high-performing pharmacy analytics programs and how hospital pharmacy departments can grow them to drive operational, clinical, and financial decisions. 

Joe Lassiter, MS, PharmD, president of The Robertson Group (TRG), LLC, kicked off the presentation by underscoring the need for pharmacy analytics.

“In 2019, [the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists] launched the practice advancement initiative or PAI, 2030 as a continuation of their practice model initiative to guide and ensure that practitioners and leaders [‘meet the demands of future practice and patient care delivery models’],” Lassiter explained. Technology and data science are among the 5 domains from those recommendations, with several suggestions that propose applications of pharmacy analytics in practice and speak to the need for having a workforce fluent in both informatics and analytics, according to Lassiter. 

However, despite the importance of well-developed pharmacy analytics programs, starting the process can be daunting, especially for departments with limited resources.

Getting Started

During the webinar panel discussion, pharmacy leaders emphasized the importance of getting started, no matter where you’re at in the process.

“[Three years ago] we really were stone and chisel for how we did our analytics…We barely could get to our data,” said Chad Hatfield, PharmD, MHA, BCPS, chief pharmacy officer, University of California (UC) Davis Medical Center. “[We] went from those caveman days to a rocket ship that’s trying to put somebody now onto Mars.”

According to Hatfield, the analytics program at UC Davis started from a partnership with the information technology (IT) team infrastructure outside of the pharmacy. The program was built on the backbone of the health system using the existing commercial data visualization tool, Tableau. Leveraging existing third-party solutions such as this can be a beneficial strategy when starting out.

“I recommend you pay close attention to where your organization is investing its dollars in regard to these applications and align accordingly,” Lassiter said.

According to Lassiter, pharmacies can use a blended approach of the following options to help get their pharmacy analytics off the ground:

  • Third-party solutions
  • Vendor partnerships
  • Regional collaboration
  • In-house personnel with specialized skill sets

“Usually there is some sort of initiative that drives analytics, some revenue cycle, regulatory, clinical, operational need that finally hammers home the need to develop this analytics program,” Lassiter explained.

Jeffrey Chalmers, PharmD, system director of pharmacy informatics and technology at Cleveland Clinic, said that his pharmacy department shifted toward a pharmacy analytics program after implementing a more modern electronic medical record platform. “Over the years, requests [for data] became more complex,” he said. The implementation of his organization’s specialty pharmacy also fueled the need for a more robust program when they realized the need for data from multiple sources to “be able to manipulate that data in different ways.”

Of course, launching the program is one challenge, but gaining the additional resources to grow the program can be another hurdle. Developing dedicated staff, whether in-house experts or recruited resources, can help further advance the process.

Growing Your Program

All of the webinar panelists agreed that partnerships with necessary stakeholders were vital in supporting the growth of their pharmacy analytics programs and teams.

“We heavily engaged our enterprise business intelligence institute,” Chalmers said. “They have a lot of programmers, data scientists on their team. [We] started by meeting with those groups to understand what types of skills we would need.”

Hatfield explained that internal discussions with financial stakeholders, such as the chief financial officer and the IT team, were crucial for communicating the program’s needs. Chalmer recommended highlighting opportunities for cost savings with drug utilization to further gain buy-in.

“We were able to leverage data to increase efficiency and utilize drugs more appropriately and display cost savings,” he said. “We continued to use that to gain more momentum to ultimately get approval for additional resources.” Chalmers relayed how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the analytics team built a medication inventory dashboard that allows near real-time monitoring of inventory levels for hard-to-acquire medications. The dashboard compared that data with usage and calculations of days on hand amounts. It’s important to identify opportunities early on to showcase successful projects to leadership teams in the organization, Chalmers explained.

Gilbert Romero, RPh, Six SigmaMBB, senior consultant, Visante, Inc., who spoke from a community teaching hospital perspective, recommended starting with topics important to the hospital. For example, he explained that because pain management was an issue that his hospital was keen on improving, his department started by showing success in that area.

“We got a pain management team out of the pharmacy that has grown…How we measured it, how quick [we measured it], and who we were presenting that data back to became very important,” he said.

Demonstrating Value

Proposing and justifying a pharmacy analytics program to the C-suite team may require demonstrating value and addressing return-on-investment (ROI) questions. Both Chalmers and Hatfield agreed that focusing on revenue and cost containment is especially crucial to justifying the program’s significance.

For example, Chalmers explained that, at Cleveland Clinic, they’d spent a lot of time trying to increase the captures rates of physicians prescribing to their ambulatory pharmacies.

“We have 26 pharmacies across northeast Ohio, but only capture about 11% of prescriptions that are prescribed by Cleveland Clinic doctors,” he said. Chalmers added that, by doing basic analytics, they determined that every 1% increase in capture rate translated to approximately $1 million annually in net profit.

“Well, that catches a lot of people’s attention,” he said. They then created a dashboard to display capture rates based on the clinic, institute, and specialty, which allowed the team to identify areas with high and low performances. 

According to Hatfield, gaining that initial trust from the executive team and then having the ability to report back the data is essential. 

“When I told you that I could save $10 million off inpatient drug spend, and then I came back, and we did $12 [million] last year, and we did it because we had these people in place, that was really more telling for us to help us continue to move forward with our program,” he said.

Build Relationships for Success

One of the key issues in proposing a pharmacy analytics program is determining the organizational structure, as programs can be based in pharmacy, IT, or jointly shared between the 2 departments.

“Our entire informatics programming, including our reporting and analytics teams, report up through me, and I report through the chief pharmacy officer, but not everybody has that structure,” Chalmers said. However, he emphasized that the most important aspect is not who you report to, but the relationships between the responsible parties and the pharmacy department. For example, his reporting and analytics teams sit in weekly pharmacy operations meetings and regularly meet with the clinical team and residents.

“I don’t think that it matters if they report up to pharmacy or IT, as long as that dynamic exists,” he said.

Lassiter agreed that these relationships are key overall, as the exact structure of the program will be unique to each organization. “The organizational nuances are too specific to be able to have just 1 template,” he said. “I think the important thing is that you leverage what’s in play at the organization, so the analytics work that’s being done; the data warehouses that have been set up; the applications that are purchased, as well that pharmacy is at the table for what is concerning medication use.” He noted that successful programs could have an IT director with dual reporting roles to the pharmacy and IT departments or a pharmacist sitting on an enterprise analytics team. Regardless of the reporting structure, what matters the most is the connection with pharmacy, he said.

The Future of Pharmacy Analytics

As pharmacy teams grow their analytics, Lassiter noted that having a strong program doesn’t have to mean “death by dashboard.” To prioritize efficiency and reduce information overload, Lassiter recommended ensuring that everyone in the organization is on the same page by asking questions like, “What are the problems we’re trying to solve? What are we going to look at? How do we measure it? And how do we visualize that?”

Chalmers agreed, noting that dashboards aren’t going away anytime soon; it’s a matter of advancing them to run more efficiently so that they can perform multiple functions.

On the future of data, Hatfield and Chalmers both pointed to the movement toward predictive analytics. Hatfield added that some of those tools exist now, but it’s ultimately moving toward using them on a grander scale to add a predictive element to their reporting. Chalmers reflected on his team’s inventory experience amid the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of the benefits of predictive analytics.

“Inventory, in general, is something that I think lends itself well to a predictive type of tool, because we can see trends over time, things that change season to season,” he said.

As data and analytics reporting evolve, pharmacy teams will be able to better predict and prepare for what’s ahead, ultimately resulting in cost savings and enhanced patient care.

Reference

  1. Kvancz D, Lassiter J, Romero G, Chalmers J, Hatfield C. Analytics – The key to high performing pharmacy programs. Presented June 16, 2021; online. https://go.bd.com/analytics_key_high_performing_pharmacy_programs.html