The Role of Technicians During and After COVID-19
Jeremy Sasser, CPhT, pharmacy content strategist for the National Healthcareer Association, discusses the role of technicians during and after COVID-19.
Alana Hippensteele: Hi, I'm Alana Hippensteele from Pharmacy Times. Before we get started, one of our top articles today is about some clinical updates on potential COVID-19 treatments as clinical trials are ongoing all around the world on treatments for COVID-19. There's more of that on pharmacytimes.com.
Today, I'm speaking with Jeremy Sasser from the National Healthcareer Association on the role of technicians during and after COVID-19.
So, Jeremy, to start, can you give us an overview of all of the invaluable things technicians are doing, and why they're so important in the pharmacy.
Jeremy Sasser: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. The technician role has been evolving for quite some time, and I actually think that this COVID-19 pandemic is going to kind of accelerate the expansion of scope of practice for pharmacy technicians because, as pharmacists are taking on more and more roles as clinicians and providing direct patient care services, technicians have to be able to do all of the work that pharmacies traditionally have done, plus new roles like technician product verification, possibly taking new prescriptions over the phone, transferring prescriptions, things like that. Not to mention some of the things that may come about because of this pandemic: possibly point-of-care testing, immunizing, things like that. So, you really have to have the technician, a good technician staff, supporting those pharmacists so that they can provide those services.
Alana Hippensteele: Right, absolutely. So, to add on that, what would you say would be the specific value technicians are providing both to pharmacists and patrons? Let's say more specifically?
Jeremy Sasser: Yeah you know keeping workflow, making sure that pharmacy operations are moving along efficiently, you know technicians are often the first and last point of contact for patients who are picking up their medications, and obviously, where drive throughs are available, certainly, encouraging patients to use methods where there's a lot more delivery going on, all of those things are likely. You know primarily being run by pharmacy technicians, so keeping things moving efficiently, making sure things aren't taking too long, that's really the value that a technician will bring.
Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely, great. Would you say those roles have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Jeremy Sasser: Oh yeah, definitely. I mean even in small ways. I mean, obviously, every state could be different depending on what is allowable by a Board of Pharmacy, but you know certainly, in my opinion, being that first and last point of contact, if nothing else, technicians can really be a comforting entity, if you will, for these patients.
You know, to the layperson, somebody who's maybe not in health care, all of these things could be kind of scary right now, and just having technicians there to maintain the services they've always done, maintain those relationships with the patients that they know, and be kind of that calming effect, I think is invaluable. Not to mention as it's going to evolve into assisting or even maybe performing point of care testing alongside pharmacists, and when a vaccine is available, you know, pharmacies are going to be the most easily accessible healthcare provider likely in order to get those vaccines.
So, in states that allow technicians to vaccinate, obviously, they're going to be rolling up their sleeves to do that, and in other states they're certainly going to be assisting pharmacists in that process to make sure it's efficient.
Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely, great. So, for those who were in the process of getting their technicians certification when COVID-19 hit, how would you say they have been affected and what solutions have been implemented to help them in their process?
Jeremy Sasser: Sure, that's a great question. A lot of testing centers that proctor this certification exam have been closed as a result of COVID-19, so I know that National Healthcareer Association (NHA), who administers the ExCPT certification exam, we are actively looking at implementing live remote proctoring that would allow individuals to take the certification exam from their home using software that we're currently exploring right now, but we did get approval from our accrediting body, NCCA, in order to implement. So that's going to be coming pretty soon, so that will be one option.
So and in addition to those that are getting initial certification, recertification could have also been an issue, so many state boards of pharmacy have granted grace periods to renew licenses based on renewing certification. NHA has provided a grace period for their certification holders as well for recertification, so the main thing is: We're trying to make sure, everyone's trying to make sure, that there's enough appropriate staffing going on in all the pharmacies, and even a lot of states have partnered up to allow state licenses to go across the borders, so, you know, certainly being in Kansas City, that's an issue for us, being right on the border of Missouri and Kansas, and having technicians that can practice in either state is a big plus.
Alana Hippensteele: Yeah absolutely. So, we've also spoken with pharmacists about expanding their practice laws. How would that apply to technicians? Is there a movement to expand tech practices?
Jeremy Sasser: Oh yeah, I mean you almost have to elevate both roles at the same time for nothing else than to ensure that technicians are able to backfill all of those duties that were traditionally pharmacists only duties as pharmacists evolve into more of a direct care provider to patients, so if a pharmacist needs time to sit down and consult with a patient, or provide some other clinical service, everything else, all the other moving parts of the pharmacy, have to continue operating like a well-oiled machine, and technicians have to be there to ensure that that's happening, so you have to make sure that their role is allowed to do a lot of those tasks that maybe they weren’t traditionally able to do right.
Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely. What responsibilities could technicians take on and what would the benefit of that be?
Jeremy Sasser: Yeah, I mean certainly in the realm, I think the delineation is really what tasks require clinical judgment versus what are more mechanical in nature. You know, a couple years ago, Idaho kind of passed laws that gave their pharmacists more delegatory authority to delegate tasks as they saw fit to technicians. It really became, and I think everybody realized, that with appropriate training things like providing an immunization that's really just a mechanical task.
They're not making the determination as to whether or not a vaccine is appropriate for a patient, or what vaccines a patient should receive, the pharmacist is still making those decisions, but when it comes to the mechanical tasks of actually being trained up to provide an immunization, they've been doing that safely, they've done thousands of doses, and so along those lines, things like point of care testing, if a CLIA waived tests came out and pharmacies were able to administer that, I could certainly see technicians, you know, getting trained on how to administer those, you know. They already are oftentimes having to take some kind of bloodborne pathogen training. You know, they could easily perform those types of activities if they were allowed to, to allow then the pharmacists to interpret those results and possibly even prescribe appropriate therapy once we get to that point.
Alana Hippensteele: Right, absolutely. So, once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, how could technicians’ role change even further? What do you think?
Jeremy Sasser: I think we've been seeing the role changing across the U.S. for some time, you know, Idaho was the first, and now we have states like Rhode Island that also allow immunizations.
New Hampshire is in the process of defining what a new role that they passed would be, which is licensed advanced pharmacy technicians, so they're in the midst of working out what are the education and training requirements, what things would those technicians be allowed to do, and again all of that is attached to a pharmacy or pharmacist providing additional services.
So, the way that they've set it up is you can't even have, if you're a pharmacy, you wouldn't be able to have a licensed advanced pharmacy technician unless you can also show that, as a result, your pharmacist is providing more direct patient care services.
So, it's happening slowly. I think if anything this COVID-19 pandemic is going to again accelerate that. Certainly in the states that have declared emergencies and opened up, at least on a temporary basis, what their pharmacists can do, it wouldn't be unlikely to see them do the same for pharmacy technicians, you know, and I'm seeing more and more states that are granting provider status to pharmacists.
We haven't gotten the federal level yet, but I think as that continues to roll along and, when the day comes that they get provider status at a federal level, I don't see any path forward other than elevating technicians at the same time to do a lot of these advanced tasks.
Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Now, let's hear from some of our other MJH Life Sciences brands on their latest headlines.