A Need for Innovators

Pharmacy Practice in Focus: Health SystemsAugust 2012
Volume 1
Issue 3

Numerous emerging trends in health care continue to create opportunities for all of us. To list just a few specific for health-system pharmacy:

  • The medications that are gaining FDA approval are usually more expensive than the current treatment options, yet reimbursement levels remain flat.
  • There is a continued push to provide more care in the ambulatory setting. Much of this care requires medications, some of which are infusions, and the clinic is geographically located away from the hospital.
  • Pharmacists cannot get adequate reimbursement for their cognitive activities. While there are some payment models, they do not sufficiently cover the salaries that pharmacists demand.
  • Data utilization through pharmacy informatics and the deployment of technology will continue to drive the future of health care.
  • What all of these challenges have in common is that innovations—both in products and services—will be the solution. But health-system pharmacy will need much more than innovations. We will need to be the innovators that lead in developing the answers to the problems that we face.

I had the opportunity to represent the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy in attending the Harvard Macy Institute Program for Leading Innovations in Health Care & Education. This was an unbelievable experience and challenged many of my professional views. A few basic terms and their definitions were shared with the program participants1:

Creativity—the process of generating new ideas

Inventiveness—the process of having original ideas and insights that have value

Innovation—the process of having original ideas and insights that have value, then implementing them in ways that change the way we live

I pondered that health-system pharmacy does not need creative or inventive people, we need innovators. Innovators are the ones that do not just see the new ideas and opportunities, but use those insights to develop concepts that transform us. It is not enough to dream up a solution to a problem. The real skill is taking that idea, creating and testing a prototype, and then implementing it into multiple places and evaluating the impact.

Those of us working in the daily activities of pharmacy recognize all of the problems and deficiencies. These include the need for more and different data fields, better ways to transport and secure medications, hardwiring processes that reduce errors and variations, and efficient operations that utilize everyone’s strengths. What we need are not just ideas and discussions on the issues, but solutions with good evidence of their impact.

Innovators seem to share a few common traits :

Associations—ability to connect disparate issues and concepts

Questioning—always searching for more and different information

Observing—while looking at the same issues and surroundings as everyone else, they are able to view things differently

Experimenting—acting upon their observations to see if a solution exists

Networking—discussing ideas and concepts with individuals with different backgrounds and learning from their unique world view If these traits are typical with innovators, how can we develop these types of individuals within health-system pharmacy? I believe that there are a few simple solutions we can implement now that could have significant benefits.

Academia—Schools of pharmacy need to look for individuals who have the skills of an innovator. We also need to market our profession to those who possess these skills.

Health-system pharmacy— Departments need to instill a culture that promotes and rewards innovation, both within their own setting and also creating opportunities for others to benefit.

Funding models—Research grants, seed funding, and other means of acquiring capital should be made available to spur innovation in health-system pharmacy. These could arise from pharmacy associations, foundations, funding agencies, and technology transfer agencies within our workplaces.

This is an exciting time to be in health care and health-system pharmacy. Innovation will occur to solve many of the issues facing us—and will be developed either by us, or by those outside the profession. If pharmacy places a priority on developing and nurturing innovators, we will be able to control much of our future destiny through the solutions we devise. Let’s all challenge ourselves to be innovators!

Stephen F. Eckel, PharmD, MHA, BCPS, FASHP, FAPhA, is the assistant director of pharmacy and residency program director of UNC Hospitals, and director of graduate studies in the Division of Pharmacy Practice and Experiential Education at the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy. He was elected the chair of the Acute Care Practice Forum and board member for the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists. He served for many years in the American Society of HealthSystem Pharmacists (ASHP) House of Delegates. Dr. Eckel has been recognized as a Fellow of ASHP and the American Pharmacists Association.


1. Colliding Cultures in Academic Organizations: presentation by Elizabeth Armstrong and Thomas Viggiano on Monday, June 11, 2012: Slide #5. Originally from R. Miller — Olin College 2011.

2. Dyer JH, Gregersen HB, and Christensen CM. The Innovator’s DNA. Harvard Business Review. December 2009.

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