The benefits of technology and data are undeniable. With technological advances, companies can make more informed, strategic decisions and monitor outcomes, and information technology can be a driver of connectivity and innovative business solutions. As everyone from IT managers to marketers to CEOs knows, having data is not the same as effectively capturing, managing and analyzing those numbers. What to do with all the data is a confounding and exciting question. The IT team at AmerisourceBergen has historically delivered data to help pharmaceutical manufacturers gain visibility into the supply chain and inventory management. As we’ve grown through acquisitions and become smarter about integrating our systems, we sought to unlock the value of the data and build an integrated technology platform that allows our company, seamlessly and effectively to partner with our customers as an enterprise organization.
“Embracing the challenges and benefits of building a unified IT system has made our company stronger and more nimble”
The healthcare industry is consumed by integrating better information technology into every day practice. EMRs, wearable technology, automation in pharmacies, and regulations such as the recent Drug Quality and Security Act require exponential innovation in our industry’s IT systems. To help our customers succeed in today’s dynamic healthcare landscape we’ve built our IT operations on three pillars—customer-centricity, talent, and connectivity.
Practicing Customer Centricity
We believe we are most successful when our customers are able to execute their strategies and ultimately support patients. Sharing supply chain and inventory data with the manufacturer is table stakes for a distributor. By taking a customer-centric approach and seeking answers, we’ve learned that we need to build real-time online access, which is a part of the roadmap for better integration with our customers’ systems.
When state and federal legislation was introduced to track pharmaceutical products through the supply chain, we realized the benefits for manufacturers if the implementation was strategic and coordinated. To ensure our customers were represented and that we could offer the best solution, we’ve become an active part of discussions with regulators as they sought to develop a law that would track medication in order to facilitate recalls and reduce the prevalence of counterfeit products. As the legislation evolved and implementation was on the horizon, we partnered with SAP to create a new data management solution, Advance Track & Trace, to help manufacturers establish compliance with the law ahead of schedule. In addition to compliance, our solution foresaw data storage needs that will allow manufacturers to better understand the functionality of the supply chain and make it more efficient. By focusing on customer needs, we were able to create a valuable new IT solution that reinforced our dedication towards our partners.
Hiring and Listening to High-Quality Talent
IT can often play a singular role, but creating a team that is guided by customer and patient centricity adds purpose to the tasks at hand and encourages collaboration. While we look for a certain set of skills and training, it’s also important that our IT team can understand the clinical nature of our work. That might mean familiarity with HIPAA to ensure compliance of how our data is segregated and blinded, or it might mean working closely with a Ph.D. to extract clinical insights.
To recruit and retain the best, it is critical to empower associates by listening to suggestions and solutions from across the department, regardless of titles or levels. I have an open-door policy for associates to share their insights. I review discussions on our internal social network, responding to conversations and supporting ideas. We host frequent all-hands meetings to ensure alignment on company goals and how the IT department supports them.
This investment in talent and focus on collaboration has helped AmerisourceBergen stay one step ahead in developing innovative IT solutions, even before our customers know they need them. For example, when our team understood that AmerisourceBergen’s focus was to help customers become more efficient and increase product access, one of our associates investigated an approach to fast, efficient deliveries. By collaborating with others to review ordering information in SAP, this particular associate developed a new IT solution that allowed us to combine our customers’ purchase orders to reduce the number of large totes delivered by 15 percent, or 50,000 – 60,000 fewer totes per day. This reduction in delivery had a positive economic and environmental impact that could immediately be felt by our client.
Starting with our customers’ needs in mind and understanding our organizational goals, this associate used data and collaboration to create a more efficient pick/pack/ship process, increase the capacity of our distribution centers, and reduce transportation costs that we’ve since replicated with other large customers. For our customers, there are less totes to receive and manage, which means some products can be delivered more frequently, all products can make it to the shelves faster, and patients have better access to the medications they need.
Creating Connectivity Internally and Externally
IT is a driver of connectivity within and outside of an organization. A core challenge for building those bridges is standardization of information both within the organization and among customers and partners. As we’ve grown, we’ve implemented rules to dictate what kind of data is used and shared, how it is used, and who can access it. Having these rules in place has helped ensure connectivity that, using both data science and clinical expertise, unlocks the value of information for our customers.
We’re working with data from oncology EMRs and natural language processing software to better understand how oncologists are prescribing different therapies. This provides insight into treatment pathways that was previously captive in notes as difficult-to-analyze qualitative data. Extracted and put into usable formats, manufacturers can better understand how their products are being used, and physicians can monitor trends in treatment. In both of those uses, the end goal is that patients are provided with the best care and data-driven treatment recommendations. This type of project benefits from connectivity that is enabled by strict firewalls, patient protection measures, and standardization.
By standardizing and analyzing data on behalf of members of our Good Neighbor Pharmacy network, we are able to identify trends and use numerical data to support reimbursement discussions with payers. This “strength in numbers” approach has been successful and wouldn’t be possible without implementing standards that connect our company, the pharmacies we serve, and the business partners that support our efforts.
Embracing the challenges and benefits of building a unified IT system has made our company stronger and more nimble. While we are a complex organization made of many business units, we serve our different customers and the industry-wide objective to make healthcare more accessible and better for patients. By focusing on our customers and their needs, hiring great talent to do that, and ensuring that we are able to create connections that help unlock value, we’ve transformed disparate IT systems into a streamlined source of insight and foresight.
Courtney Fisher-Lewis, Associate CIO, Saint Luke’s Health System & Ex-Sr. Director, IS Program Management, Children’s Mercy Hospital David Chou, SVP & CIO, Harris Health System & Ex-Chief Information & Digital Officer, Children’s Mercy Hospital