Putting clinical information at your fingertips

MedicinesComplete is an online drug and healthcare reference database owned by the Pharmaceutical Press (which publishes The Pharmaceutical Journal). Its development manager Harvinder Sondh uses his first-hand knowledge of being a pharmacist to understand the needs of users. 

Head of technology at MedicinesComplete, Harvinder Sondh

Where did you start your career?

I graduated from the Leicester School of Pharmacy in 1994 and did my preregistration year at a high street Boots pharmacy in a small town in Leicestershire. My first job after qualifying was at Heathrow airport — it was a real culture shock. Having spent a year helping patients to manage their long-term conditions, I was now doing all I could to help people in the last minutes before they went on holiday. I stayed for nearly four years by which time I managed several pharmacies across the airport’s terminals.

How did your career progress from there?

After Heathrow, I moved to a Boots store on Bond Street in London and started to work my way up the management ladder. At the time, Boots wanted to start offering chiropody and dentistry services from their stores and I was asked to manage the implementation of those services across the London and the south east. 

In 2004, I moved to Moss Pharmacy for a role introducing healthcare services, such as cardiovascular screening, within pharmacies. When Moss became Alliance Pharmacy, which subsequently merged with Boots, I took on the role of service development manager at the Boots head office. Much of this involved working with stores to determine how new services could be delivered and, notably for my current role, how technology can help deliver services.  

After leaving Boots for a brief stint at the National Pharmacy Association, I took up my current role at Pharmaceutical Press, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s publishing division, in July 2012.

What does your current role involve?

As product manager, I oversee the commercial and development aspects of MedicinesComplete. In simple terms, I ensure that it delivers a financial return for the RPS and continues to evolve and improve. My ultimate aim is to make sure that people get a great experience when they use the website so I speak with customers regularly and ensure that the “voice of the user” is heard during all stages of development. Much of this involves co-ordinating the work of the editorial, sales, marketing and software development teams.

I speak with customers regularly and ensure that the “voice of the user” is heard during all stages of development.

This year, MedicinesComplete will be ten years old. As well as celebrating this landmark, we will be relaunching the website with a new look, compatibility with mobile devices and some new features — including a tool to answer drug interaction queries. We hope that pharmacists working in community, hospitals, universities and the pharmaceutical industry will benefit from these developments.

Why were you attracted to the role?

I am a big technophile and a huge fan of gadgets — which is great in this job. When applying, I saw it as a good professional challenge and a chance to help people deal with everyday issues. With the role of pharmacy expanding, I thought it would give me an opportunity to help that expansion by developing a product which helps puts vast amounts of clinical information at pharmacists’ fingertips.

What training did you get once in the job?

Working with software requires different thinking. One of the first things I learnt about was agile project management. This is a method by which a series of incremental improvements to a product can be delivered over a prolonged timescale. Therefore, rather than spending years developing a finished product without knowing how customers will receive it, you launch a basic product early and plan to improve it incrementally by learning continuously from user feedback.

I have needed to learn how to understand the analytical tools used to measure the success of websites and how to identify whether product users are getting a good experience. Although the basic principles can be learnt through training sessions, much is learnt on the job through working closely with experts.

How has your previous experience helped with the role?

Being a pharmacist is a major advantage, because I know first-hand the needs of our users. So-called soft skills, such as relationship building, have been particularly important. This is not about line managing employees but influencing people from several different teams to work together towards a common goal. It has also required much innovative thinking — a skill that I have had to develop throughout my career.

Admittedly, it would be difficult for a pharmacist, working in a pharmacy, to gain experience of this type of work. One idea might be to keep a log of when technology has been a barrier to accessing any information that you may need. The ability to think of solutions to these issues is hugely beneficial. It is also useful to understand the language of website designers and programmers; it allows you to communicate on their level.

Interviewed by
Gareth Malson.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 26 July/2 August 2014, Vol 293, No 7820/1;293(7820/1):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20065867

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