Building Your Specialty Warehouse: Focus on Data Acquisition

Jim Maguire
Published Online: Monday, September 12, 2011
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These steps for taking on new contracts and data warehouse projects will save you time and expenses down the road.


Congratulations! You’ve recently been awarded a fantastic limited distribution contract, or maybe you just joined a small network of specialty pharmacies supporting a large regional managed care organization. Well done! The only problem: you don’t have the capability to support the data requirements associated with your new line of business.

Because your new client is looking for their reports and the chief executive officer wants a budget, it may be tempting to begin your project by looking at the hardware and software necessary to create the warehouse. But that would be the wrong thing to do.

First, you need the lay of the land. Speak with the people in the organization who know where the data is and how it moves. Interview those individuals who are currently responsible for creating reports and assisting with analytics. These subject matter experts are key to the success of the project. Most likely, data processes currently exist within the pharmacy that feed financial systems or other processes. Look to leverage these processes. Next gather existing reports and current business requirements. The new data warehouse will need to meet these ongoing needs as well. Finally, you are ready to perform a gap analysis on what you have today and the data you need to meet the requirements of your new managed care organization or Pharma client.

Nothing will delay the success of or destroy the momentum of the project more than undue deliberation at the outset. Beware—stakeholders will be competing and additional data requirements will be piling on. The data warehouse initiative is a large one, so focus on your prioritized deliverables and don’t take on too much to start with. A phased iterative approach works best. The data warehouse will become an integral part of your pharmacy, and you can always add components later.

While the selection of hardware and software is outside of our scope here, remember to consider the following items: maturity of the product, ability to implement automation, scalability, and the availability of technical resources which can provide support (and be aware of how expensive they are). The advent of “secure cloud computing,” in a managed environment, means you may not need to maintain and host the servers and ancillary hardware; this could be a low cost scalable option for many pharmacies. In addition, with a hosted environment you will be able to add processing power, disk space, and memory on an as-needed basis.

Once your data warehouse is in production you will have a data gather system that will regularly pull in large amounts of data from many sources and leave it stored and configured for optimum accessibility and manipulation. The whole point of a data warehouse is to consolidate data that is difficult to pull together. Your design must allow for data acquisition from multiple databases in-house, from remote locations in your companywide area network or WAN, and from external sources. This can be complex.

If you need to, it’s OK to look for outside help. While it’s prudent to review your in-house resources, if this is your first specialty pharmacy data warehouse project, it’s probably a good idea to hire outside consulting help.

It’s a certainty that no 2 specialty pharmacies are the same. There are great differences in operational processes, payer requirements, management’s needs, and the quality of data extracted from the fulfillment process. Be certain that your data warehouse partner understands and addresses this uniqueness. Additionally, your data warehouse will more than likely add to the workload of your staff. Be certain that your team has the skills needed to assume the additional responsibility.

Remember, the data warehouse needs to be maintained. Your analytics will grow in sophistication with time. Data will be refined and configured in new and different ways. In order for your data warehouse to remain relevant, it will have to change as your organization changes. This may be the result of questions needing to be answered, or modifications required due to changes in your fulfillment systems or processes such as therapy management. Lastly, if you selected a vendor partner to help you, that resource should help you to continually and proactively develop a deeper knowledge of specialty pharmacy data integration methodologies and analytical trends.

Good luck with your data warehouse project! It’s time to roll up your sleeves! Next time, we’ll review data delivery considerations. SPT


Jim Maguire is the chief executive officer of Biomed Intelligence, a firm specializing in health care information technology support solutions. With more than 20 years of experience, Mr. Maguire was formerly the chief information officer of a pharmacy benefit manager and also led information technology operations at a specialty pharmacy.

 




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