The Evolving Role of Pharmacy Technicians

APRIL 15, 2015
Ryan Marotta, CPhT, Assistant Editor
As the health care landscape shifts and transforms, many pharmacy technicians are seeing significant changes in their roles and responsibilities.
 
Technicians’ presence in the pharmacy has been growing steadily, a development that is well understood by Colonel (USAF Retired) Everett B. McAllister, MPA, RPh, executive director and CEO of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. Despite the changing nature of their work, technicians have consistently been essential members of the pharmacy team, McAllister told Pharmacy Times in an exclusive interview.
 
“Pharmacy technicians are very integral to the pharmacy operation. They are team members who support pharmacists in many different roles and in all practice settings,” McAllister said. “In many ways, technicians are the backbone of the pharmacy operation, and they are instrumental to a successful pharmacy.”
 
Initially, technicians had a very limited function, only serving as clerks or cashiers. Many states established clear restrictions on the tasks technicians were allowed to perform, and they maintained low pharmacist-to-technician ratios, McAllister explained.
 
However, technicians gradually began to take on additional responsibilities, including entering and filling prescriptions, reconstituting medications, and communicating with physician’s offices and insurance companies. McAllister credits this progression to technicians’ constant demonstrations of skill, competence, and professionalism.
 
“There is a greater level of acceptance and recognition for technicians among pharmacists,” McAllister told Pharmacy Times. “It has been a gradual acceptance and change, but there is nothing as great as seeing the advancement that has occurred.”
 
Hannah Peabody, CPhT, a pharmacy technician at the Patient Rx Center of Hematology/Oncology Associates of Central New York in East Syracuse, New York, observed that higher patient volume and an increasing workload for pharmacists necessitated a concurrent growth in technician responsibilities.
 
“I think that the responsibilities of technicians have grown considerably, especially during the last couple years,” Peabody told Pharmacy Times. “As pharmacies have become busier, technicians have had to step up and take on a greater role to help the pharmacist.”
 
Colleen Jenkins, CPhT, a pharmacy technician at St. Luke's Outpatient Pharmacy in Boise, Idaho, and the 2014 Next-Generation PharmacistTM Technician of the Year, told Pharmacy Times that she and her colleagues have recently undertaken new responsibilities, such as participating in research, assisting in clinical settings, and helping to provide medication therapy management.
 
“Some of the roles of pharmacists and technicians are almost blending, as we’re being asked to be more educated in the role of filling prescriptions and recognizing drug interactions and therapy duplication,” Jenkins said. “Our roles have changed from a more simplified ‘helper’ to actually being a co-partner or team player in the process of providing patient care.”
 
Jenkins predicted that these changes will have a positive effect on not only the technician profession, but also patients.
 
“I see our profession earning an even greater professional status and demanding higher educational requirements as we’re asked to do more directly related to patient care,” Jenkins said. “As patient care becomes increasingly streamlined, adding technicians in that area will improve patient outcomes.”
 
With provider status becoming a reality, the next several years could prove as critical to technicians as it will be for pharmacists, McAllister noted. He anticipates that many pharmacists will relinquish some of their non-clinical tasks to technicians as they take on more direct clinic roles as health care providers.
 
While encouraging technicians to adapt alongside the evolving environment of pharmacy, McAllister challenged them to commit to lifelong learning and take advantage of new opportunities that will empower them to better perform their most essential and unchanging role: advancing patient care.
 
“The best thing that technicians can do is to step outside of their comfort zones and be willing to accept these deeper roles, as it will strengthen the pharmacy team as pharmacists are increasingly providing direct patient care,” McAllister said. “Everyone on the team is here to take care of patients; that’s our main responsibility.”
 


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