Pharmacy techs: Many skills, varying responsibilities
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.
In the last few decades, the occupation has changed greatly McAllister said. Years ago, the people doing these jobs might have been called assistants or clerks, but they were not called pharmacy technicians. “Probably only in the last 20 years have we seen the adoption of that term,” he said.
“I think the common thought is that pharmacy technicians just assist the pharmacist in filling prescriptions and cashing out patients through the register,” said Hannah Peabody, CPhT, who was named 2014 PTCB Certified Pharmacy Technician of the Year. “In actuality, pharmacy technicians have huge responsibilities in helping to ensure safe and effective dispensing, inventory management, and so much more, depending on the setting.”
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.
The number of states that require some form of regulation for pharmacy technicians is growing, and several professional groups have taken up this cause, including the PTCB, the American Society for Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), and the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).
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.
“Over the course of the last 20 years, we have seen a number of states implementing rules and regulations governing the occupation of pharmacy technicians,” said PTCB’s McAllister. “Every state is responsible for providing oversight and rules when it comes to the practice of pharmacy. Right now there is no national standard which provides an umbrella that covers the profession of pharmacy technician.”
Starting in 2020, PTCB will require each new candidate for certification to complete an ASHP/ACPE-accredited education program. This change, now being phased in, will advance pharmacy technician qualifications by elevating the boards’ standards for certification. PTCB’s certification is accepted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.