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Pharmacists stre-e-e-tch their thinking with innovative partnerships

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Lee-Anne McAlear is the program director for the Centre of Excellence in Applied Innovation Management at York University’s Schulich Executive Education Centre in Toronto.

By donalee Moulton

Photography by Brandon Gray

She has worked with companies, organizations, and teams in 32 countries on five continents. She spoke with us about how pharmacists and the profession could establish truly innovative partnerships in today’s demanding and ever-changing landscape.

What transforms a partnership from ordinary to innovative?

Partnerships are not new. They have always been an integral part of the way organizations and businesses reach their markets, customers and patients. What is new is the way we look at partnerships today. Traditionally, partnerships have been vertical, working up the supply chain. Pharmacies have worked closely with suppliers, for example, to develop new and innovative products for their customers. Today, we’re looking at opportunities, across whole markets and industries. We are seeing even more examples of competitors working together – called coopetition. This includes leaders such as Microsoft and Apple joining forces on mobile technology, and MIT and Harvard coming together on research and Ford and Nissan jointly manufacturing. The question is: “Who might we partner with in a way that would benefit our customers, our own businessness and the whole sector? In what ways might joining forces create a tide that raises all boats?”

Why are innovative partnerships essential in these tough times?

Many forces are at play today, and it is highly unlikely that any one company, any one profession, or any one pharmacy, has all the answers. Pharmacies are built on strong core competencies, prescription dispensing and education, but the current environment demands more than this. Ask yourself how your pharmacy is using digitalization, not just to fill prescriptions but to enhance the quality of life for patients. More and more of your patients are using an exercise tracker of some kind, for instance. How could you work with the companies behind these trackers to enhance the information, experience and knowledge of your patients?

What are the challenges facing the pharmacy profession with respect to developing innovative partnerships?

Pharmacists have always been quite innovative within their “box.” Today they are doing everything from administering vaccines, testing for allergies, providing postal services, and selling cosmetics. Now it’s time to look outside the box. This is the biggest challenge: moving from what you know really well to thinking more expansively. Take, for example, partnerships with pharmaceutical firms. These have customarily focused on a specific drug, disease or health issue. But there are huge opportunities outside this sphere. Pharmaceutical firms have extensive expertise in marketing, for one. How might these adjacent competencies be leveraged?

What are common missteps professionals take when trying to ensure their work with others is innovative?

When innovative partnerships are most successful, each partner has a very clear idea of what they want to achieve. You don’t innovate for innovation’s sake. Innovative partnerships are built on need and a really deep insight into what people require. For pharmacists and their partners, this is all about enhancing the quality of life for patients. Up front, you need to decide how to measure outcomes, and these metrics must be strategic. It’s about more than increased revenue and additional products.

Do you have any tips for pharmacists looking to establish innovative partnerships?

Innovative partnerships can drive not just efficiency but also new value. Indeed, that is a key reason for innovating in the first place. Great innovation is elegant and simple. Think of the iPhone. Focus on ease of use. Start small and grow from there. Build on innovation just as Apple has improved each generation of iPhone. Incremental innovation with your partners means change can be more readily managed. Finally, to innovate you must, by definition, step outside your comfort zone. Innovative partnerships start when you stretch your thinking.

Leaders in Pharmacy, including this independently written article, is supported by Pfizer Canada.