By pharmacists, for pharmacists. It’s a simple credo that led the development, testing and launch of an entirely new, customer-designed, online e-commerce ordering platform for independent pharmacists. While at first read that may seem like a small service for a narrow market, consider there are approximately 24,000 independent pharmacists across the U.S.—ordering and dispensing more than 1.5 billion prescriptions annually to people who depend on them for their health. And, at the same time, these independent pharmacists are facing unprecedented challenges.
"Our approach was radically different in many areas than with any other program that came before"
Their personal touch differentiates them from larger chain pharmacies, and amid tightening financial margins, this differentiator is more important than ever. They were looking to us— AmerisourceBergen and the Good Neighbor Pharmacy network— to help bring them new technologies that would allow for less time spent on administrative tasks, like ordering and forecasting products, and more time spent with patients, being a part of their care teams.
Thus, the desire to build a platform as seamless and user-friendly as Google or Amazon—intuitive, easy to search with common sense add-ons, like calendars and multiple user capabilities—but for a population often underserved by technology and necessitating quality assurance was born.
Named ABC Order, the challenge for our IT and quality assurance team was speed of delivery, while maintaining quality for the new ordering platform. We had to ask ourselves, “What tools do community pharmacists need to succeed both today and tomorrow?” and then package those tools as part of an overall solution set that can both be intuitively incorporated into a pharmacy workflow and meaningfully contribute to that operation’s bottom line. Our approach was radically different in many areas than with any other program that came before, so our need to ensure that we were protecting quality throughout the life cycle of the program was an imperative.
The first step in protecting the quality of the program was appointing a Quality Assurance lead. This was critical for the program to ensure that we met or exceeded all standards throughout every stage of testing day in and day out. In order to be part of the solution, we needed a clear understanding of the problem. The previous ordering platform required additional in-house and third party support to allow speed of delivery. The challenge of quality assurance was to not simply ensure issues were fixed, but also to collaborate with the team so lessons learned prevented future issues. The quality assurance way of saying this is, “Love the solution, not the problem.” For a quality assurance analyst, the work does not stop once a problem is identified.
The ABC Order team adopted an agile methodology to improve throughput and coupled it with a new e-commerce platform, SAP Hybris. Additionally, new development tools were added to support technology and methodology. The simplicity and flexibility of this approach allowed us to use customer feedback to drive improvement. We implemented a test strategy that combines manual, automated interface, performance and user acceptance testing.
Rather than solely focusing on test metrics, the Quality Assurance team continuously asks whether our work helps the ABC Order team answer the key question: “Is the solution business ready?” If the answer is “No” or if we cannot explain how our work is affecting a business outcome, we re-examine the value of the effort. Being part of the solution depends on “tell the truth, tell it fast”—a guiding principle for us: our teams are deeply integrated and invested in the success of the program. When quality assurance is seen as a partner, teams look to quality assurance for advice rather than seeing them as an audit function.
To develop a program that was truly “by pharmacists,” we needed to test the program with the independent pharmacists who would be using it day in and day out. At Amerisource Bergen’s independent pharmacy conference in 2015, initial platform concepts were tested with focus groups and brainstorms were held to address areas for improvement. Then, the program underwent several rounds of extensive usability testing with more than 80 pharmacists. Ongoing resonance and usability testing continued thereafter with more than 200 pharmacies.
Quality assurance collaborated with the project team to ensure the evolution of the test strategy, including staff readiness to use the testing tool, continuous monitoring and training to address concerns in a timely manner, and—finally—a review of project processes to confirm best practices are followed. At the end of the project, we always want to be able to state the following things:
• We executed all the necessary tests.
• We are confident the results are reliable.
• We have corrected all significant defects.
• And, any known issues are non-impactful and acceptable to the business.
After an extensive piloting period, the new program—ABC Order—is currently rolling out to independent pharmacies nationwide. The quality assurance team was critical in engagement with leaders, and excellent communication to the teams allowed for quick adjustments and shortfall corrections. Now, the results are clear—better software for our users. In fact, we’ve heard from independent pharmacists in our pilot program that ABC Order has cut their ordering time in half—accomplishing the goal set at the outset: more time for care.