Pharmacy technicians can play a crucial role in preventing medication errors, according to a presentation at the National Pharmacy Technician Association’s virtual Pharmacy Technician Student Summit. 

As the role of pharmacists continues to expand to include more primary care duties, pharmacy technicians are needed to help fill the gap. Serious preventable medication errors occur in 3.8 million inpatient admissions and 3.3 million outpatient visits every year, according to the presentation. These errors cost approximately $20.6 billion per year, according to the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation (NEHI). Dosing errors make up 37% of preventable errors. 

The vast majority of physicians do not communicate with a pharmacist regarding a new prescription. Thirteen percent report the changes and only 32% of physicians in ambulatory care use electronic prescribing, according to the NEHI. Only 4% of physicians reported having electronic medical record (EMR) systems that were fully functional and had a prescribing function.

Pharmacy technicians are playing a growing role in medication error prevention and are often seen as the first line of defense. As the role of the pharmacist grows, the technician is in a unique place to be able to catch errors and prevent them from happening in the first place. 

“We’re kind of the first line. We’re the ones who types (them) up, we’re the ones who take them from the patient at the counter,” presenter Lori Bruhn, CPhT, said during the presentation. 

Bruhn has been a senior certified pharmacy technician at Walgreens Pharmacy for more than 13 years. Additionally, she is the lead pharmacy technician instructor at Pima Medical Institute in Denver, Colorado. According to Bruhn, the average pharmacy technician can make approximately 6 mistakes per day and should use the 5 patient “rights” while checking medications to avoid these errors. 

The 5 patient “rights” is a method aimed at minimizing medication errors. The first is to ensure you have the right patient by asking them to identify themselves and checking their ID band. The second is to ensure you have the right medication, the third is ensuring you have the right dose, and the fourth is to ensure the right route. The last “right” is ensuring you have the right time, which means ensuring you confirm the time of the last dose and frequency. 

According to Bruhn, this would typically have been the job of the pharmacists. However, as the role of the pharmacist becomes more clinical, it’s up to technicians to fill in the gaps. As the role of pharmacists is starting to look more like a primary care provider, the role of the clinician also expands, according to Bruhn. 

“Back in the day, you used to just be a pharmacist. Now you are a Doctor of Pharmacology. You are a doctor...They’re really respecting the role of the pharmacist with their clinical knowledge. We go on rounds in the hospital, we’re involved in [pharmacy and therapeutics] committees. They’re starting to allow the pharmacist to write certain prescriptions,” Bruhn said.

Bruhn added that it’s about time pharmacists are being acknowledged for their medical knowledge. They are more than qualified to perform these tasks; however, as the pharmacist moves up, the technician moves on up with them.  

“We do take on a lot of responsibility. We are expected to know a lot as far as medications, brand generics… and laws, and regs and what you do with a recall…” Bruhn said. “It’s nice to see, and I think with the certification and the state licensing, I think we’re becoming more and more validated.”