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Pharmacy informatics (also pharmacoinformatics) is an applied information science and defined as a "...unique subset of medical informatics focusing on the use of information technologies and drug information to optimize medication usage". Further, it is "...the use and integration of data, information, knowledge, technology, and automation in the medication-use process for the purpose of improving health outcomes." This statement, made by the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists (AHSP), is one of the better definitions of the pharmacist’s role in informatics. Other definitions focus on medication-related data including the acquisition, storage, analysis, use and dissemination of pharmaceutical information. Broadly speaking, pharmacy informatics is the study of the interactions between people, work processes and health systems with a focus on pharmaceutical care and patient safety.
What do pharmacy informaticists do? They focus on applying technology to support, streamline and improve workflow and patient safety in the pharmacy. Pharmacy informaticists work with information systems to help pharmacists make informed decisions for their patients. Professional associations and licensing bodies in the United States and Canada have cited informatics as a set of highly desirable skills for practicing pharmacists. The question is how will pharmacy students acquire these highly-valued informatics skills? What role can health librarians play in teaching these skills? Health libraries are increasingly required to support the work of the pharmacy informaticist. Medical informatics offers opportunities for health librarians to participate and includes its sub-specialties health informatics and nursing informatics. Schools and faculties participating in the development of new pharmacy informatics programs should seek the input of health educators and health librarians to create interdisciplinary competencies. The data and information-intensive discipline of pharmacy means that practitioners will also need to develop skills in text-mining and related data fields of big data, data curation and open data.
Traditional library support of informatics
Pharmacy librarians typically teach strategies and techniques for finding, selecting and using the best information sources to answer drug questions, whether the setting is a public institution or an academic setting. In teaching workshops, pharmacy librarians may be asked to provide an overview of the drug information research cycle, prescriptions, over-the-counter, natural medicines, and drug trials. An introduction to evidence-based pharmacy methods may be required to answer difficult drug information questions. This would be to identify the best sources to answer those questions, and to utilize core print and freely available web e-resources.
Many faculties of pharmacy appreciate and seek the support of health librarians. Health librarians have taught pharmacy students how to use the academic library for decades, and with newer roles emerging for academic health librarians in problem-based learning and within case-based programmes, pharmacy librarians are in high demand. In Canada, the best practices vary considerably but health librarians often participate in cases or assume more defined roles with faculty. Health librarian involvement may depend on available resources and funding, and faculty buy-in. Health librarians assume important roles in new health programmes especially. The types of support provided may be organized along traditional or newer service philosophies:
Embedded librarians in pharmacy programs
Embedded librarianship has emerged as a suitable approach for pharmacy librarians to assist faculty and students in learning informatics-based skills and competencies. Several faculties of pharmacy are becoming more proactive by embedding librarians within their pharmacy schools. Through a process of establishing visibility, recognition and developing services efforts have led to collaborations with faculty in both research and instruction. It will be important for pharmacy programs to describe the successes and challenges of librarians embedded within colleges and schools of pharmacy, and how being embedded provides opportunities to build successful partnerships.
Reference services for pharmacy
Health librarians are required to provide traditional reference services to pharmacy students and faculty via face-to-face and digital technologies. Increasingly, virtual reference services are provided by health librarians via remote chat and instant messaging technologies. On-demand reference services are focussed on individuals as opposed to groups of users. Typical questions include how to find digital resources, searching medical databases effectively, among other electronic collections. Instruction is often provided as a one-on-one service, although consultation services are provided to students to meet their needs as defined by the reference interview. Occasionally, appointments are made with other specific subject specialist librarians.
Print and digital collections for pharmacy
Academic libraries provide print and electronic access to collections. However, the trend in academic libraries favours the provision of electronic access over print (see eBooks). Most pharmacy librarians collaborate with collections librarians in building their pharmacy-related collections. Other health librarians are available to help with selection and acquisition of required titles, electronic journals and databases to support the programs. As a related, complementary activity, pharmacy librarians teach students how to access and use pharmacy databases as required.
Information literacy efforts
The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) states that "information literacy is the ability to locate, evaluate and use information effectively”. Many libraries have made a commitment to IL efforts in strategic planning and program design. Further, librarians strive to "support scholarly activity and academic life-long learning" and provide information assistance as required (ie. how to find books, connect to online resources) and library workshops (ie. how to find/use information resources to support teaching, learning and research). Pharmacy students learn these information skills from librarians at the reference desks in the library, and via librarian-led workshops. However, certain skills may also be self-taught through self-pacing web-based tutorials. One element of education that is essential is literature searching. In most pharmacy programs, students are required "...to develop critical thinking and evidence-based skills" and use information sources efficiently. The exact form of library support in pharmacy informatics programs is determined in consultation with faculty.
An efficient teaching method to groups of pharmacy students is the computer lab. "Curriculum-integrated" modes of delivery are often desirable because they are tailored to the explicit needs of student pharmacists and faculty. Information literacy programs should be built through a fostering of collaborations with faculty and librarians. Some popular digital projects include librarians that team-teach with faculty; the development of web-based learning tutorials that can be viewed asynchronously are also popular. Online tutorials should be tailored to newer pharmacy courses (i.e. accessible anywhere, anytime). Follow-up hands–on sessions should also be offered and scheduled to reinforce the learning objectives and literacies stated by the programs. Newer programs in pharmacy offer opportunities for health librarians to collaborate with faculty; librarians should seek to participate on a number of committees as the appropriate librarian liaison in order to meet faculty and listen to their information needs.
Mobile devices such as iPhones are being used by practicing pharmacists to monitor patients, browse online sources of information and check dosing numbers. There are a number of useful clinical and pharmacological applications for mobile devices. The integration of smart phone technology targeted at solving information management problems are of enormous benefit to pharmacists.