The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting the work of health care providers across the nation, and pharmacy technicians are no exception. However, in the midst of rapid industry changes and new demands, pharmacy technicians are meeting the challenge of these evolving roles and responsibilities head-on.

Recently, 12 pharmacy organizations in the United States jointly released a cohesive set of recommendations for policymakers to address the COVID-19 pandemic, including expanding pharmacists’ role in combatting the virus. As the role of the pharmacist is expanded to meet the greater needs of the public, so too will the role of the pharmacy technician within the pharmacy.

Jeremy Sasser, pharmacy content strategist at the National HealthCareer Association (NHA), told Pharmacy Times® that as quicker testing methods for COVID-19 become available, some states that allow pharmacists to administer point of care testing for chronic conditions, such as diabetes and hypercholesterolemia, and acute illnesses, such as strep throat and influenza, may allow pharmacists to administer these tests for the coronavirus.1

Pharmacies that provide such services must obtain a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) waiver to do so since they are not a traditional lab. Pharmacy technicians can handle the paperwork required to obtain this waiver, according to Sasser.1

“As antivirals become available, it would be the hope that after a pharmacist administers such a test, with a positive result, then be able to prescribe treatment according to established guidelines. In order for pharmacists to do any of that, requires technicians to take up the slack in other duties in the pharmacy, such as possibly taking new verbal orders over the phone, or performing technician product verification,” Sasser told Pharmacy Times®.1

Amari Hopkins, a pharmacy technician based in Decatur, Illinois, is among technicians who have been shouldering more responsibility with hectic daily work operations. Hopkins told InStyle that her pharmacy’s scripts jumped from 300 to 600 a day in the past week.2 “We have way more customers, and way more people coming in. We have like a ‘will call’ wall with the filled prescriptions, and it’s usually pretty full, but now it’s empty because everyone’s coming to get their prescriptions.”

Much of the frenzy surrounding patients and their prescriptions follow new suggestions from organizations such as AARP, who have told patients to stock up a 3-month supply of prescriptions during the COVID-19 pandemic in case of a complete lockdown, Hopkins said.2-3
Sasser told Pharmacy Times® that unfortunately, even in the midst of a pandemic, chronic diseases don’t take a vacation.

“Medications to treat metabolic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia must continue to be filled and available for patients who need them, [and] pharmacy technicians are well-poised to continue those services,” Sasser said.1

Currently, states such as Pennsylvania are allowing certain out-of-state pharmacies to ship goods into the state and will permit remote supervision of pharmacies by telephone or computer. This temporary ability for remote supervision allows pharmacy technicians and interns to additionally dispense medications with a supervising pharmacist on the premises. Additionally, it improves social distancing, practices which is currently recommended in pharmacies.4

In addition to their daily activities, pharmacy technicians can perform point of care testing in states that allow it. Sasser said numerous studies have shown outcomes that strongly favor the ability of pharmacy technicians to perform these tests, such as swabbing the nasal passage, throat, or performing a sterile finger stick.

“Bottom line is that, as pharmacies continue to provide more front-line direct patient care services, technicians will need to support all of the other operational duties that pharmacies will need to continue to provide,” Sasser said.1

However, the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic present new challenges as well. Pharmacy technicians are put under immense stress in their pharmacy due to growing patient needs. Additionally, pharmacy technicians put themselves into harm’s way while working in a high-risk environment for infection. According to Sasser, health care workers should understand the risks involved with their daily work and undergo proper training, such as bloodborne pathogen training, taking effective hygiene measures, and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) required to mitigate the transmission of disease.1-2 

According to Sasser, following CDC guidelines and Occupational Safety and Health Administration precautions surrounding safe working conditions is vital to protect the staff from spreading the virus. As patients increasingly seek to obtain 3-month medication supplies, pharmacy technicians should look toward the use of drive-thru(s) or coordinating delivery of medications.1

“Understanding and informing patients about what [pharmacy benefit managers] are allowing given the circumstances, such as temporarily allowing early refills on chronic medications, can help ensure patients are stocked up on critical medications so as to limit the need for trips to the pharmacy,” Sasser said.1

References
  1. Interview with Pharmacy Times. Jeremy Sasser via email. March 16, 2020.
  2. Hopkins, Amari as told to Reed, Sam. This Is What It's Like to Be a Pharmacy Technician During the Coronavirus Pandemic.  March 20, 2020. https://www.instyle.com/lifestyle/pharmacy-technician-coronavirus-day-in-the-life. Accessed March 23, 2020.
  3. Nania, Rachel. Planning for Prescription Drugs During the Coronavirus Outbreak. AARP website. Accessed March 10, 2020. https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2020/prescription-drugs-coronavirus.html. Accessed March 23, 2020.
  4. Sheenan, Daniel Patrick. Pennsylvania pharmacy regulations suspended to streamline care during coronavirus emergency. The Morning Call. Published March 22, 2020. https://www.mcall.com/coronavirus/mc-nws-coronavirus-pharmacy-rules-lifted-20200322-nlqri62aszddpm7javxyju3x5m-story.html. Accessed March 23, 2020.