George’s Corner

Some big changes. Some things never change. It was the spring of 1985. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I knew I was going to be on the University of California’s board of regents for the next couple of years. That was going to take some time, but not generate any income. I had a job, but it was kind of running out of steam. I ran into Bill Lockwood at some meeting. He was just starting ComputerTalk and suggested that I write a column and that it might generate some consulting business.

I said I would see what I could do. I always admired columnists because they seemed to come up with interesting things to say week in and week out. So I told myself, if you can write three of them this weekend it might work. As I have always been loaded with opinions and advice, it was no problem writing those first three. I had a luggable Otrona computer. I took it to L.A. for the first regents meeting and wrote three columns in one afternoon/evening.

So now it is the spring of 2016. I have been writing these columns every two months for 31 years. This adds up to more than 180 columns. That’s lots of advice and opinions. Upon thinking back about what I like to write about, there are some recurring themes:

  • Pharmacists need to evolve into focusing on taking care of people instead of taking care of pills. A transition from behind the dispensing counter to “face to face” with the patient is happening. Computer systems need to be more user-friendly. Computer system engineers need to spend more time in the pharmacies seeing what works and what does not work.

  • Computer system buyers need to know what to look for and what to look out for. They need to remember that they are buying a service — not just hardware and software. And that service is difficult to fire if it doesn’t perform well. So what has happened in those 30 years?

  • Pharmacists are doing more patient care. The people who write the laws and rules are recognizing the knowledge levels, the judgmental abilities, and the ready availability of pharmacists. They are making the changes that allow pharmacists to take care of patients as well as pills. You know the list and the states, and more are being added (services and states) every year. These are big changes, and some pharmacists are resisting these changes. There are challenges as this happens: reimbursement methods and amounts; availability of hours, appointments, time, additional education.

  • Pharmacy systems are more user-friendly. Two reasons: The software and hardware are constantly improving. The users are more computer-friendly.

  • I believe that there is greater recognition of the need for buyers of computer services to focus more on the computer company and its principles and principals. More on that in a minute.

A few of us remember the dot-matrix printers, the 300-pound 10-megabyte disk drives, and the paper claims. Those are all gone. Their replacements are amazing and will get even better. Buyers Guide Issue

The last issue of ComputerTalk was the buyers guide. Wow! So many features. So many companies. Several new companies. Many that have been around for years.

Some of the offerings had a narrow focus. Some are trying to do everything that may involve electrons. Pretty soon we will have one that determines the average age of the patrons and adjusts the background music mix and volume to match their comfort zones, as well as checking for drug interactions.

I was struck by the complexity of the decision process. There are so many factors to consider. Everything from the color of the hardware cases to how many “whiz bangs” does the computer do in one “milli-micro second.”

Treat the whole decision process as an investigation, a “due diligence” before committing to a partnership. Yes, I said a “partnership.” Both you and the computer company will be dependent on each other for many years.

Some Decision Steps

It’s time to make a “feature” board. Use little sticky notes. One sticky note for each feature you need (or want). Find a good-sized wall and stick them on randomly. Then review the buyers guide issue of ComputerTalk to be sure you have thought of everything. After you have a sticky note for each feature, array them in priority order. From “must have” to “fun to have.”

Go to a convention and eliminate the companies populated by people that you do not want on your team. It is important to understand that you are adding a bunch of “employees” that will be impossible to fire. Also narrow down the choices using your feature priority list. Take notes right after each encounter with a vendor.

Go see the top candidates in action. Visit at least one pharmacy using a candidate’s system, while it is using the system. The vendor will send you to someone who likes its system. While there, in addition to seeing how the system works, there are two more things to do: 1) Because the person who decided to buy the system will defend his/ her decision, talk privately to the technicians and pharmacists using the system and find out what they like or dislike, and 2) ask the users if they know other pharmacies that are using that system. Then go on your own (without the salesperson) to those other pharmacies.

Treat the whole decision process as an investigation, a “due diligence” before committing to a partnership. Yes, I said a “partnership.” Both you and the computer company will be dependent on each other for many years.

The big changes are in the hardware and software. The decision process has not changed. CT

George Pennebaker, Pharm.D., is a consultant and past president of the California Pharmacists Association. The author can be reached at; 916/501-6541; and PO Box 25, Esparto, CA 95627.