Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane "pill-flipping" life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.
It’s no secret that pharmacy technicians are becoming a more integral part of the pharmacy team. Their job descriptions are continuously morphing as new tasks are added.
Because pharmacies in virtually all care settings have become busier, pharmacy techs have stepped up to the plate and assumed a range of additional roles and responsibilities.
Gone are the days of pharmacy technicians serving as clerks and cashiers. Working directly with patients and insurance companies, entering and filling prescriptions, and communicating with physician’s offices are just a few of the new roles today’s techs have taken on.
If you’re a pharmacy technician, then you’ve probably performed at least a few of these new tasks:
1. Taking medication histories and performing reconciliations.
Pharmacy technicians in a health-system setting have increasingly been directly interviewing patients to collect information about the medications they're taking.
As part of this investigative work, technicians also call the patient’s pharmacy and other health care providers to reconcile the results of the interview with refill and filling patterns. After the pharmacy tech completes his or her investigation, the results are provided to the pharmacist for review and interpretation—saving the pharmacist a ton of time.
2. Managing inventory.
Because pharmacy technicians have their fingers on the pulse of the pharmacy, they are the ideal candidates to take on a more active role in inventory management. In fact, they may know the pharmacy's inventory needs better than the pharmacist. Nowadays, pharmacy technician training includes inventory cycling and basic financial management topics.
3. Medication distribution.
Some pharmacies have implemented “tech-check-tech” programs, in which 1 pharmacy technician verifies that another technician has filled the prescription correctly. These programs free the pharmacist from having to oversee straightforward medication distribution.
4. Patient education.
Pharmacy technicians are being called upon to work directly with patients to explain medications, side effects, and dosages; answer patient questions; and identify medication adherence issues. If a technician observes an issue or requires assistance, he or she typically elevates the concern to the pharmacist. Pharmacy technicians are quickly becoming the "first stop” when it comes to direct patient care.
5. Assisting with emergency care.
Many pharmacy technicians are now required by their employers to become CPR-certified and/or perform a specific role in the event of an emergency. Whether a technician begins CPR, retrieves the AED, or calls 911, this “all-hands-on-deck” approach could help to save a life when seconds count.
6. Communicating with prescribing physicians.
Communicating with prescribing physicians used to be strictly within the purview of the pharmacist. Today’s pharmacy technicians are increasingly working with prescribing physicians and their staff to resolve discrepancies, reconcile medication histories, and clarify prescriptions on the pharmacist’s behalf.
7. Resolving insurance issues.
Pharmacy technicians are quickly becoming the pharmacy’s experts on insurance. As insurance plans become more complicated, technicians are frequently dealing with impatient, upset customers at the drive-thru window or pharmacy counter. Thus, it is necessary for most technicians to make frequent calls to insurance companies or counsel patients on their options when they are faced with a large prescription bill. Most technicians are even familiar with prescription assistance plans available through the government or drug companies.
8. Evaluating pharmacy operations.
As mentioned above, pharmacy technicians know the pharmacy inside and out. Therefore, pharmacy managers often look to technicians to suggest ways to improve efficiency, boost patient care, reduce waste, and cut costs. Pharmacy technicians are also in an ideal position to provide valuable feedback about pharmacy policies and procedures that affect day-to-day operations.
9. Quality control.
Pharmacy technicians are taking a more active role in ensuring quality patient care. By identifying potentially harmful drug interactions and therapy duplication—often before the pharmacist even reviews the patient’s case—technicians serve as a filter to lighten the pharmacist’s workload.
The role of a pharmacy technician is likely to expand significantly in the coming years. With that expansion, technicians may see opportunities for advanced professional training, increased salaries, and opportunities to specialize in certain aspects of patient care, such as pain management, pediatrics, or mental health.
Although adding new responsibilities to an already challenging workload may seem like a huge burden, pharmacy technicians should embrace the new opportunities available to them. Increased autonomy and pharmacist-technician partnership is sure to lead to increased efficiency, better patient care, and higher job satisfaction.