Recently, I’ve been hearing more about how pharmacists’ roles are changing. And, many believe, including me, pharmacists will spend more time on the floor collaborating with the medical team and directly involved in patient care. If the pharmacist role is expanding, who will they depend on to help with the daily tasks (i.e. dispensing medications, taking prescriptions orders from caregivers, etc.)?
All signs point to the pharmacy technician. Best practice recommendations published by ASHP include the imperative for “Successful implementation of new pharmacy practice models, including deploying pharmacy technicians for all distributive functions that do not require clinical judgment.”
A recent article in Drug Topics describes the importance of the pharmacy technician:
Across the country, pharmacy technicians are at work in community and hospital pharmacies. They stock shelves, fill vials, manage inventory, make sure prescriptions are delivered where they are needed, and in retail pharmacies, assist customers. But as their roles and responsibilities evolve, they also now deal with automated dispensing systems in hospitals, help patients obtain financial assistance for medications, and work to develop telepharmacies.
“Pharmacy technicians are the backbone of the pharmacy,” said Everett B. McAllister, RPh, executive director and CEO of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).
Pharmacy technicians will be expected to take on more responsibility. Tasks that were once primarily completed by pharmacists, including dispensing medication, will now be done by pharmacist technicians.
I believe pharmacists of the future will focus more on protecting patients at the point of contact, intercepting medication management issues before they become a problem, helping the medical team decide on the best course of therapy to ensure effective treatment, and working to improve medication outcomes for patients across the continuum of care.
In an interesting ASHP Intersection article, Innovating the Pharmacy Technician’s Role, it states:
“Highly trained, skilled technicians are critical elements in a high-functioning pharmacy team,” said ASHP President Diane Ginsburg, M.S., R.Ph., FASHP. “If pharmacists are to achieve their highest calling—direct patient care—we must be able to rely on our technician workforce as our support system.”
Training pharmacy techs with increased skills is also becoming a necessity. Drug Topics explains:
Working to identify the proper roles and responsibilities for pharmacy technicians is a big job, said Carmen Catizone, DPh, RPh, executive director of NABP. “The key to all this is how much the pharmacist is involved in patient-care activities.” Pharmacists are doing more counseling of patients, and they can do this because pharmacy technicians are assuming responsibility for other tasks in the pharmacy, he said.
As state rules and regulations change, there is also a push to make them more uniform across the country.
“ASHP has a policy that says that a pharmacy technician should be trained in an accredited program,” said Douglas J. Scheckelhoff, RPh, vice president of the Office of Practice Advancement for ASHP. Pharmacy technicians should have to prove their competence in a standardized way and be regulated through the state board of pharmacy, he added.
The roles of pharm techs may be changing and their responsibilities increasing, but the basic job definition is still to assist a pharmacist in distributing medications to patients. However, the tasks that pharm techs can perform vary from state to state in a wide-ranging and complicated patchwork of regulations. Some states require them to be licensed, some require them to be registered, and some require them to be certified. And a state may have different regulations for technicians who work in institutions and those who work in retail settings.
Several state pharmacy boards allow a certified pharmacy technician to check an order filled by another pharmacy technician, a procedure called tech-check-tech (TCT). Some studies of TCT have found accuracy rates comparable to those of pharmacists who do the final check.
Other areas in which the responsibilities of pharm techs are increasing include pharmacy automation, medication coverage/reimbursement assistance for patients, and telepharmacy.
As I am out visiting customers, I have seen firsthand how pharmacy automation technology and software features that enable “Tech Check Tech” can give pharmacy technicians confidence as they add new responsibilities to their days – in fact, the pharmacy technicians are most often the experts in the operation of the Talyst systems and have the most feedback and suggestions for me on how to make our products better and patients safer. It’s key for the future for us to empower pharmacy technicians and automated technology and software solutoins can assist with this empowerment.
I’m excited to see how both roles will evolve in the next few years.
Have you already seen the changes? Do you think it’s possible to free the pharmacist’s time with the help of the pharmacy technician? Looking forward to your thoughts and discussion!