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Pharmacists Must Work Smarter, Not Harder, to Stay Current with Clinical Trends

Anna Baker
Anna Schardt Baker Published: June 11, 2024
Surfing the waves

Like all healthcare providers, pharmacy professionals must navigate the never-ending flood of clinical literature in their field. However, most learn the skill set independently through trial and error, not from any formal framework.

"No one taught me explicitly tips, tricks, or approaches on how to manage the amount of information that's coming out in healthcare, including where to go and what to do with it," explained ASHP Pharmacy Futures 2024 speaker Emily K. Frederick, associate professor and director of student affairs at Sullivan University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Kentucky.

Frederick and her co-presenter, Elyse A. MacDonald, director of pharmacy services and the investigational drug service at Stanford Health Care, were interviewed in advance of their June 11 session, Clinical Currents and AI Horizons: Surfing the Waves of Clinical Trends and Literature.

The presenters offered tips for pharmacists to continuously improve their knowledge and practice — without drowning in the process.

Resetting expectations

Frederick and MacDonald argued that healthcare professionals cannot reasonably be expected to keep up with every journal article, clinical guideline, or news story. Since 2018, the number of academic articles published annually has grown by more than 22%.

They pointed to the deluge of scientific information during the COVID-19 pandemic as the quintessential case study. Practitioners couldn't possibly consume the more than 125,000 related pieces available within the first 10 months, let alone memorize them. What’s more, it was difficult to tell which research and reporting was reliable and which was outdated, as COVID-19 articles have been retracted at a much higher rate than those from previous outbreaks.

“We were all so hungry for it because our patients needed us to know how to best care for them,” Frederick said. Given the COVID-19 experience, she urged pharmacists to think about how they would approach such a situation again.


A framework for staying afloat

Frederick and MacDonald offered ways attendees could steer their professional development while safeguarding their brain space and time. A new or refined process for keeping up with clinical literature and trends could include:

  • Deciding which topics are most relevant and meaningful to your daily practice
  • Signing up for alerts and social media hashtags
  • Honing your sources such as newsletters, listservs, and journal subscriptions (“If it’s too much, you’ll read none of it,” Frederick advised.)
  • Scheduling time on your calendar to peruse the latest news and publications
  • Finding an accountability partner to exchange what you’ve recently learned
  • Categorizing and filing information for later reference

They encouraged the audience to commit to one new tip or tool that would enable them to work smarter, not harder — then refine their approach over time.

A place for artificial intelligence (AI)?

While AI is a powerful tool for accomplishing certain tasks more effectively and efficiently, Frederick and MacDonald cautioned against relying too heavily on the technology to sort through clinical trends and literature.

They urged pharmacy professionals to be cognizant of generative AI’s limitations. For example, ChatGPT has been known to serve up inaccurate information and cite false references. Anything produced by AI needs to be rigorously fact-checked, and that could amount to more work, they conceded.

The speakers remain hopeful that an AI-powered platform could one day help healthcare providers parse the high volume of clinical research and guidelines.

For now, however, said MacDonald, “you don’t want to be making clinical recommendations off of faulty information that could ultimately affect patient safety.”

Posted June 11, 2024

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