Knowledge Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry
Knowledge Management in the Pharmaceutical Industry
The study of Knowledge Management is a process that has been researched for centuries by western philosophers and traditional theorists, however it is only until recently that knowledge management has been the main focus for many organisations. Many have said that it was the publishing of Karl Wiig’s, “knowledge management foundations” (1993), that sparked the huge interest in knowledge management and nearly two decades on KM is now considered as an essential tool for companies to improve their performance and adaptability. 1] Not only this but the concept of knowledge has been regarded as a businesses most precious asset and highly critical in keeping a firm competitive.  This study will look at the knowledge management of one of the most Knowledge intensive industries in the world, the pharmaceutical industry, looking at, comparing and criticising the different strategies that are used within the industry. The pharmaceutical industry is rapidly growing and rapidly evolving , with organisations constantly investing in their research and development departments for the development of new and valuable explicit information.
In 2007 €6,525 million was spent on R+D in the UK for the pharmaceutical market, showing that firms invest large sums of money in this knowledge intensive industry.  Pharmacy as an enterprise system The Pharmaceutical Industry is sort of like a “community of practice” (CoP) where all the organisations share a common interest in medicine, working together to promote the acquisition and sharing of knowledge, with a common goal of providing the “best practice” for the public.  It is clear that the industry is heavily dependent on using IT in storing and accessing information.
Since the introduction web 2. 0 there has been a rapid increase in the use of enterprise systems across the industry. An enterprise system allows for data to be identified, captured and embedded in software to be accessed by all organisations within the industry.  A clear example of this comes from a professional body called the department of health, this body stores explicit data on the internet in a PDF called the “green book”, this can be accessed by any member of the public, as well as any organisation.
The book provides the latest information on vaccines and vaccination procedures for all vaccine preventable diseases.  Not only is the book accessible via the web but also a hard copy of the book has been distributed to immunisation health professionals around the country, making it very easy for any pharmacy to find the information it needs. What makes this store of information so reliable and valuable to organisations is that it updates itself with new editions from information shared between different pharmacists, adding new vaccines etc.
This type of knowledge management system is effective for this industry and can be better explained using Dalkir’s knowledge management cycle:  As it shows, knowledge is captured by different organisations through the use of research and development, this knowledge is then assessed and shared with organisations and pharmacies all over the country via the use of the “green book”. Pharmacy’s then use this knowledge to purchase the right medicine and vaccinations to sell to the public.
The update part of the life cycle comes in the introduction of new editions brining new information. There is a sense of a “mini community” within this management system, where the role of culture is valued quite highly as a knowledge sharing environment is created and designed so firms and organisations can share their information.  However one of the main drawbacks that comes with this knowledge management system is that it does hinder competitiveness.
Larry Prusak (1996) said “The only thing that gives an organization a competitive edge – the only thing that is sustainable – is what it knows, how it uses what it knows, & how fast it can know something new! ”  The introduction of the green book meant every pharmacy in Britain has access to the same information, making it difficult for organisations to get ahead in terms of knowledge. However it is important to note that pharmacy’s are not entirely profit orientated, but also aimed at providing the best possible medicine and vaccinations to the public.
The General Pharmaceutical Council and its implications Continued professional development is vital in the pharmacy profession as it allows for individuals and organisations to reflect back on their practice and then create plans to upgrade and improve. There is a professional body dedicated entirely to this system called the General Pharmaceutical Council (GDP),  this body provides a particular framework for individuals and organisations to set targets based on their previous practices.
The CDP offers a cycle for firms to reflect on their previous practices and then plan on ways to improve practices on the future based on experiences and knowledge they have acquired. Another aspect of the CDP is something called Continued Professional Development (CPD)  This is a set of standards that are universal to all companies in the industry and which they must all comply with. What makes this so effective is the CPD is applied to all pharmacists and failure to meet the standards would result in the pharmacy losing their registration.
The CPD expects each pharmacist to make a minimum of 9 entries a year, based on the knowledge acquired to update their own practices. This is a huge incentive for all firms to get involved as failure to do so would result in losing their registration. Although this is a good strategy in attempting to engage organisations in learning, there is a key fundamental drawback. Although the system allows for storage of explicit data from each organisation, it does not allow for pharmacies to access information from other pharmacies therefore stopping any sharing of information or data.
However it is clear there are other professional bodies available for this. The effect of IT The internet for many may have made the storage of knowledge much easier, however there is a negative associated with heavy reliance on IT. The effect may be that members from departments and organisations no longer need to confer with each other as the information can be taken from a directory from any enterprise system. This will reduce “face to face” conversations between specialists which spark new ideas resulting in a lack of new information coming in.
The availability and easy access of knowledge will act as a disincentive for individuals to search for new information. Conclusion Knowledge management is now considered essential, with many agreeing the knowledge a business has is one of it’s most precious assets. Overall it is quite evident that the pharmaceutical industry is heavily reliant on the use of IT to process, store and share knowledge. The professional bodies mentioned above are only a few of the number of enterprise systems dedicated to allowing organisations to update their knowledge of the profession and maintain a high level of customer satisfaction.
The use of a universal framework to engage pharmacists in assessing their own practices is an essential tool in making firms acknowledge their own level of knowledge as well as keeping them up to date with the most recent information. The fact that there is still competition and huge sums of money invested into R+D shows that all across the industry people are still challenging new ideas, however one thing is for certain, each organisation relies on each other for new information and knowledge in this ever changing industry.