The lines of communication between drug manufacturers and pharmacies are still largely paper-based. We’re counting on AWS to expand our digital presence through a variety of digital tools, including MyMedications.ca, a free online app that will provide patients with consistent information about their medications.
Kathryn Wood Director, User Experience Development, CPhA

The voice of Canadian pharmacists, Canadian Pharmacists Assocation is a national voluntary organization committed to advancing the health and well-being of Canadians through excellence in pharmacist care. A trusted source of education, information, and resources, it has a more than 50-year track record of creating drug and therapeutic resources for healthcare providers, including pharmacists, physicians, nurses, optometrists, midwives, and dentists.

With advances in artificial intelligence, voice recognition, wearables, sensors, and mobile apps, CPhA needed to upgrade its infrastructure in order to optimize management and improve patient care.

“Innovations in technology are changing and advancing healthcare delivery and pharmacy practice,” says Kathryn Wood, director of user experience development at CPhA. “By enhancing the digital experience, we can give pharmacists and other healthcare practitioners the resources they need to ensure the safe use of medication.”

A specialist in agile development, with a focus on user experience, Wood joined CPhA in 2016 to coordinate digital strategy. Tasked with identifying emerging technologies that could be used to improve existing products and design new products with the user in mind, Wood encourages her team to begin each day with a user story.

“User stories are simple, written descriptions of the end user’s requirements of an application and they get people talking about the desired functionality,” explains Wood. “Shifting the focus from writing about requirements to discussing them lays the foundation for agile development.”

As pharmacies take on an expanded role in healthcare, they look for new ways to connect with users and streamline healthcare delivery. For instance, CPhA is developing a new notification system with the help of Amazon DynamoDB (DynamoDB), a fully managed, cloud-based database service that offers single-digit millisecond latency at any scale.

“The lines of communication between drug manufacturers and pharmacies are still largely paper-based,” says Wood. “We’re counting on AWS to expand our digital presence through a variety of digital tools, including MyMedications.ca, a free online app that will provide patients with consistent information about their medications.”

In addition to supporting new initiatives, AWS services are critical in transforming the way CPhA maintains and improves existing offerings, such as its flagship product, RxTx, a clinical tool comprising critical Canadian drug and therapeutic information. An invaluable support for Canadian healthcare professionals, it is available online through either a mobile app or an integration channel.

“We have enhanced the functionality of the new mobile RxTx app to provide clinicians and pharmacists with time-sensitive access to the information they need,” says Wood. “In addition to providing a faster, better service, the new app offers complimentary content and facilitates searches by suggesting search results.” 

By working with LinkByNet, an AWS Partner Network Advanced Consulting Partner, CPhA gains access to a team of AWS certified resources and architects. “I’m very happy with the extensive content available and the ongoing support for evaluating infrastructure needs and exploring the broad selection of AWS services,” says Wood. “As a team, we’ve come to rely on this and have actually found ourselves stopping in the middle of a technical discussion to investigate the AWS website to see whether there’s a product that will satisfy our requirements.”

Database support now comes from Amazon DynamoDB. Amazon Simple Email Service (Amazon SES) provides an email service that supports new product growth, streamlines automation, and makes it easy to modify setup. Other AWS services used by CPhA include Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Elastic Load Balancing (ELB).

Since moving its server infrastructure to AWS, CPhA has evaluated and made significant changes to its infrastructure and architecture setup. “We have a large amount of content to transfer and update in real time,” says Wood. “Deciding to go with Amazon S3 to host content and APIs for our new mobile app was largely a function of reliability and the cost optimization.”

Storage on Canadian soil was also a selling point. “When AWS introduced Canadian data centres in 2016, CPhA felt it was the right time to move its servers,” says Wood. “As Canadians, we thought this seemed like a logical and safe next step for our organization.”

AWS has also proved a profitable next step for CPhA. Streamlining the automation process has reduced operating costs by approximately 40 percent, facilitated modifications to setup, and expanded CPhA’s ability to offer online products and services. Hourly rates allow the scalability and flexibility to accommodate new products and expand capacity without restrictive monthly fees.

“This is the kind of agile development that flows from a well-crafted user story,” says Wood. “It’s very exciting when our team gets to participate in each piece of the development and share in the success when a new product comes to life.”