Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS
Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief
Mr. Eckel is professor and director of the Office of Practice Development and Education at the School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Most other health care professions require standard qualifications for personnel who assist in delivering health care. This helps create a framework for safely delivering care. For example, a clear division exists between the optometrist, who exercises professional judgment in performing eye examinations and writing prescriptions, and the qualified opticians who fit and help patients select eyeglasses. These roles take full advantage of the differing educational and skill levels of everyone involved, and they are well understood and accepted by patients.
Pharmacy may be the only major health care profession that remains an exception to this rule. Pharmacy still lacks universally applied standards that ensure that all technicians are qualified to take on the same routine tasks.
We have, of course, made progress. A quarter of a million technicians have achieved certification from the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and are applying their training to support pharmacists nationwide.
I believe that, as a profession, we have not adequately dealt with the issue of delegation to qualified supportive personnel. It is time that we did so.
This idea is rapidly gaining support. For example, the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) has been working on defining a policy for pharmacy technician education and training, encapsulated in 5 proposed policy statements presented at its recent annual meeting.
On the one hand, these statements reaffirm pharmacists' authority for controlling the distribution process and the personnel involved and their responsibility for completed medication orders. At the same time, the statements support the growth and universal use of accreditation programs. The statements encourage state boards to require, by 2015, that all new pharmacy technicians complete an accredited education and training program and become PTCB-certified. The proposal also supports required state board licensure for pharmacy technicians and encourages boards to develop a process for current technicians to become licensed.
One reason that we need to make progress is explained in the APhA statement: "Pharmacists must establish a framework that justifies the confidence of its patients in those who care for them." Other reasons exist as well. Unless we are able to delegate, it will be difficult for us to move into advisory health care roles that really require a pharmacist's professional judgment.
Pharmacy technicians have a major role to play. Even though some of us remain concerned about delegating to technicians, the evidence suggests that welltrained technicians can perform routine tasks. It is time that we establish universal standards that ensure the competence of technicians and recognize their role.