To Innovate in Pharmacy, Identify the Problem

SEPTEMBER 15, 2015
In order to innovate, a systematic process must be followed.
There are many different problem-solving steps and methods, but the one we generally teach our students is:

1.       Identify and define the problem.
2.       Analyze the problem; frame its scope and significance.
3.       Identify or formulate possible solutions.
4.       Evaluate the strengths and limitations of those solutions.
5.       Select and defend the best solution.

The first step is to identify and define the problem. In many ways, this is the most critical step to focus all your attention and align all of your energy because failure to move in the right direction could place you on a path where the solution you propose does not solve a market need.

Here is some guidance to correctly identify and define the problem:

1. Look for problems lacking solutions.

Walk around your pharmacy to observe any inefficiencies and take note of them. These could be technicians who have to take too many steps to complete a task, or telltale comments such as “This is the way we have always done it.”

The solution might be a quick reorientation of workflow, moving around equipment, or purchasing existing technology, but that isn’t always the case.

Another approach is to ask your pharmacy technicians or pharmacists questions like:

·         What drives you crazy about your job?
·         If you could fix one thing, what would it be?
·         Where do most of the errors occur in the pharmacy?
·         What step slows down operations the most?

Asking these questions multiple times to a wide variety of individuals at different time periods will allow you to observe trends and common themes.

While you might routinely ask these questions already, you probably don’t consider the answers through the lens of innovation or creation of new products. However, the answers are all built around problems that occur within the pharmacy, and individuals have either created workarounds or just accepted that it is the best they can do.

2. Focus on the problem, not the idea.

Some people just want to be innovators and entrepreneurs, so they create a new product or idea, develop it, and bring it to market.

While this might be exciting for the individual, the solution does not resolve a problem that needs an answer. The resulting venture will inevitably fail because no thought was put toward the underlying problem and the needs associated with it.

Instead of focusing on the idea, focus on the problem. The ideal situation is uncovering a problem serendipitously, but this does not always happen, so working to identify an existing problem is another method.

While complex problems are better to solve, they are inherently more difficult and require additional time and resources.

3. Spend more time on the problem than on solutions.

It is important to think through all aspects of the problem before even considering solutions, because doing so will cloud your true understanding of the problem.

Evaluating the problem through the eyes of pharmacy technicians, pharmacists, and other stakeholders (nurses, physicians, and patients) will help you better understand its issues, frictions, and hindrances. This will allow you to fully appreciate its true impact and how it impedes operations.

While the solution phase is always the most exciting, identifying and defining the problem that needs to be solved is critically important. Spending time on this first step will ensure that the rest of the problem-solving process will naturally follow.

I appreciate any insights and experiences you might have on this perspective. You can let me know what you think by e-mail at or Twitter at @stepheneckel. 

Pharmacy Times Strategic Alliance

Pharmacist Education
Clinical features with downloadable PDFs

Personalize the information you receive by selecting targeted content and special offers.