The pharmacy technician profession is continuously evolving, with increases in medication safety standards bringing about changes in technician requirements. In an effort to identify the shifts in the pharmacy landscape that have impacted pharmacy technicians, participants in Our Voice, a journaling project powered by the American Association of Pharmacy Technicians under the leadership of Association President Judy Neville, were asked to describe major workflow changes they have experienced throughout their careers as pharmacy technicians.

Among Our Voice participants, about 23% have practiced as a pharmacy technician for over 20 years, and 20% have only practiced for 3 years or less. Overall, the extent to which respondents observed workflow changes tended to correlate to their years behind the pharmacy counter, with veteran technicians experiencing more shifts in pharmacy practice and technician opportunities than their less-seasoned peers.

A common theme that emerged from Our Voice responses was changes in processing prescriptions through insurance companies. According to survey responses, technicians currently spend more time handling third-party rejections, requesting prior authorizations, and processing overrides than they have in the past. In addition to playing a greater role in managing insurance issues, technicians now have more opportunities in patient and clinical services to assist the pharmacist in medication therapy management processes.

Automation and technology have also contributed to workflow changes for many technicians, with over 53% of Our Voice participants stating that automation has had a major impact on their career. In the community pharmacy setting, automated machines help count, label, and package fast-moving medications. In the hospital setting, robots and dispensing cabinets assist technicians in packaging and efficiency, as well as decentralize the pharmacy so medications can be accessed outside of the inpatient pharmacy. Many pharmacy settings have utilized automation during the ordering process, with auto-replenishment and perpetual inventory systems allowing technician to keep the proper amount of medication in stock. Technician also make use of bar-coding to ensure medication safety.

An increased focus on both medication and employee safety is also evident through the heightened United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards. Pharmacy technicians have seen many changes implemented in sterile compounding techniques and clean room requirements as a result of USP <797> and are in the process of ensuring safe practices of employees for the compounding of hazardous drugs due to USP <800>.1,2

Although many changes in pharmacy practice have been positive and helped increase productivity and medication safety, one consistent problem among Our Voice respondents was the increase in the amount of time dedicated to drug availability and drug shortages. Pharmacy technicians have played a vital role in monitoring, investigating, and mitigating strategies to manage medication shortages and availability issues. In the past 10 years, drug shortages have increased by more than 400%3; this drastic increase has created a distinct opportunity for pharmacy technicians to assist in alleviating the effects of drug shortages on patients requiring these medications.

It is evident that the role of the pharmacy technician has transformed over the past 20 years. An increase in education or certification requirements in many states and workplaces has helped increase technician responsibility and created new opportunities for many pharmacy technicians. The Our Voice responses have identified many new practices that pharmacy technicians have encountered, but also highlights the need for standardization of technician education, certification, and licensing requirements among states.
 
Kristy Malacos, MS, CPhT, is the pharmacy administrator at Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton, Ohio, through Pharmacy Systems, Inc.

REFERENCES
  1. USP compounding standards & resources. US Pharmacopeial Convention website. usp.org/usp-healthcare-professionals/compounding. Accessed August 15, 2016.
  2. Ë‚800˃ hazardous drugs—handling in healthcare settings. US Pharmacopeial Convention website. usp.org/usp-nf/notices/hazardous- drugs-handling-healthcare-settings. Accessed August 15, 2016.
  3. Kennedy M. Drug shortages in U.S. emergency rooms on the rise. Reuters website. reuters.com/article/us-health-emergency-drug-shortages-idUSKCN0UT1W7. Published January 15, 2016. Accessed August 15, 2016.