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ePMA - a core component of safe, high quality care

by Soomal Mohsin-Shaikh
Published on 25 September 2020

In 2016, Cerner and University College London signed an academic partnership focused on advancing research and innovation in health IT, closing the gap between research and clinical practice, and developing the healthcare workforce of the future.

Soomal Mohsin-Shaikh is a PhD student at the UCL School of Pharmacy. In the first of two Cerner blogs, Soomal shares her experience as a junior pharmacist and how it encouraged her to explore the ways introducing electronic prescribing and medication administration (ePMA) in the hospital context changes workflow and communication around the use of medications, and how these changes can facilitate improvements in the safety and quality of medication management.

Five unanswered bleeps and more coming, four nurses waiting at the pharmacy hatch, three discharge prescriptions waiting to be labelled, dispensed, checked and couriered, two urgent clinical queries needing an answer – and one stressed junior pharmacist working alone at 2am. Some would call this an easy on-call shift.

My pre-registration year – followed by 18 months working as a junior pharmacist at one of London’s biggest hospital organisations – was an eye opener. I experienced at first hand the struggle of working as a front-line healthcare professional in an intense and fast-paced environment, but I rapidly adapted to this setting.

Running around a ward trying to locate drug charts was part of my daily practice. I remember constantly feeling frustrated by this routine and thinking ‘there must be a better way’.

The introduction of an ePMA system at my hospital was a game changer. ePMA and electronic medical notes enabled me to work in a different, more efficient way. I was now able to access the full patient record, including the drug chart and observations, remotely. I could also now read – in black and white – doctors’ plans and nurses’ handovers without having to guess from their handwriting. I could save so much time, as at a click of a button I could see my patient’s entire journey. It was not without its challenges, of course, but this was to be expected when a new system is implemented.

Finding answers to unresolved questions

Taking a step back to before I started my training as a pharmacist, I now realise I always had a taste for research through my studies as an undergraduate. During this time, I was fortunate enough to publish my thesis and had the experience of seeing an exciting practice-based project from its planning stage to global dissemination. This experience, I believe, was the pivotal moment that shaped the course of my journey.

As I entered my training to become a hospital pharmacist, I knew one day I would turn my efforts to research. In my case, this dream came sooner rather than later. As much as I enjoyed my work as a pharmacist, I was eager to find a route back into education to pursue a PhD. When ePMA was launched at the hospital I was working at, I came to know a lot about the impact of the new system on errors and challenges with implementation, but one question remained: how has this system really transformed my practice?

A working professional, like myself, could add value to a number-crunching world of research by providing the answers to questions that require practical, hands-on experience.  

My journey as a PhD student, like most others, has not been short of a rollercoaster so far. Quite often, professors remind us that ‘a PhD is not a sprint, it’s a marathon’ – although I sure wish sometimes that ethics committees would get their skates on!

So far, the university has offered me a range of courses to help increase my knowledge in statistics, qualitative research, public speaking, academic writing and much more. My supervisors have encouraged me to network with others working in similar research areas. My academic sponsor has invited me to present my research to other healthcare professionals. I am confident this journey will result in developing my skills, which I can then apply to further research and to my clinical practice.

Bringing a fresh perspective to the research field

Pharmacy will always be my first passion, my bread and butter, but undertaking a PhD has offered me an opportunity to take on a different kind of challenge, to push myself academically and grow into a well-rounded researcher. In a world where technology is widespread, and people are in a race to discover and adopt the latest form, there is something significant we can uncover from this booming industry of health IT.

The benefits of engaging with academic partners – along with health technology sponsors – offer the perfect backbone for budding researchers to explore and develop. I would encourage other pharmacists to take the leap into research, as the skills we gain during our degree and profession set us up to be conscientious researchers. Pharmacists with a working background can bring a fresh perspective to research and can offer their expertise to the academic world. Research doesn’t just grow the field; it grows you as a person too.

Soomal has now completed and published the findings of her research, and she has gone back to the NHS frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Make sure to keep an eye on the Cerner blog so you don’t miss the second part of this article, where she will discuss the research methodology applied throughout her PhD, some of the findings of her work, and whether she thinks COVID-19 will have an impact on the way ePMA systems are perceived and used by healthcare professionals in the NHS.