Publisher’s Window

<!–– It’s All in the Data ––>
We hear a lot these days about big data and how this is transforming the high-tech industry. To this point, IBM Chairman, President, and CEO Virginia Rometty called data the new natural resource in her message to shareholders in the company’s 2015 annual report. IBM is putting data to work with its Watson computer. If you will recall, Watson won on Jeopardy! in 2011.

Healthcare is one of the markets targeted with Watson, a cloud platform that is gaining traction. IBM has lined up some impressive partners, such as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the New York Genome Center, CVS Health, and Medtronic. The company has also acquired data sets from a population health management leader, a health data analytics provider, and a medical images firm. And this year IBM will acquire Truven Health Analytics, a leading provider of cloud-based healthcare data. Rometty reported that Watson is being trained by the world’s leading practitioners and researchers in multiple fields of life sciences, medicine, and healthcare.

I find this to be pretty heady stuff. You noted that CVS Health is a Watson partner. Having pharmacy involved is recognition of the importance of prescription data to the grand scheme of things.

Pharmacy has a wealth of data at its fingertips that should be put to use to improve health outcomes. We are beginning to see this with the focus on adherence and the influence medication synchronization programs can have in driving adherence. Pharmacy has an incentive to get involved here because of the Part D star ratings that can determine whether or not a pharmacy can remain in a Part D plan’s network.

It’s not surprising that we have so many companies in the pharmacy space promoting adherence solutions. System vendors are addressing this with software that can facilitate identifying people qualified for synchronization of their medications. Med sync programs take time to set up and manage, but what I have heard is that these programs can drive higher refill rates and consequently, more revenue for the pharmacy. So it is a win-win for the patient and the pharmacy.

While we are at it, let’s look at point-of-sale (POS) systems. These started out as transaction-processing systems. They have since morphed into sophisticated data analytic systems that help pharmacies improve product selection and inventory turnover. Then we have the loyalty programs that are driven by the data in the POS system. These are the areas where POS systems pay off.

I remember years ago, when I did a lot of speaking, how I would emphasize the value of the data sitting in the pharmacy systems, but this wasn’t a priority of the system vendors and users at the time. The priority was on how fast a prescription could be processed and billed. I think my message back then would resonate more so today.

We have come a long way from transaction-processing systems. We now have systems that are data driven to improve the financial health of pharmacies. This is where the emphasis should be placed. CT

Bill Lockwood, chairman/publisher, can be reached at