Not enough time to do everything.Too much of the dayspent on routine tasks such asdispensing refills, instead of consultingwith patients. Sound familiar? It should,because it is a situation faced by many ofus. And, with the continuing shortage ofpharmacists, it is not likely to go awaysoon. With that in mind, perhaps it's timeto grasp a thorny issue: whether to furtherexpand the role of pharmacy techniciansto include some basic, nonjudgmentaltasks that currently are restrictedto pharmacists.
It is a topic that has remained controversial,and of course many pharmacistshave legitimate concerns about givingtechnicians wider responsibilities. Forinstance, it is still the case that trainingand skills vary widely among pharmacytechnicians, despite moves to establishand promote the use of accredited trainingand certification programs. If technicianscould take on additional roles,though, it could help reduce workload andfree pharmacists to focus on other tasksrequiring judgment and a higher level ofexpertise.
One potential role that could be takenon by technicians with appropriate skills isrefilling prescriptions. It can be arguedthat, in most cases, refilling a prescriptionis not a judgmental activity. The pharmacist'sjudgment is called for when dispensingthe initial prescription; after that, refillscould routinely be handled by techniciansworking independently.
How might this work? For a possiblemodel, we can look to the established"tech-check-tech" practice in hospitalpharmacies, where technicians routinelyfill unit-dose carts, and other technicianscheck their work. Some studies have suggestedthat technicians can actually performthese jobs more accurately thanpharmacists.
Perhaps a similar approach could beused in a retail setting to provide technicianswith a clearly defined, independentprescription-refill role. Ofcourse, technicians would need anappropriate level of skill before beingallowed to take on the job. To ensurethat, expansion of responsibility couldbe tied to completion of accreditedtraining programs and examinations.
Technicians that take on these additionalresponsibilities might also berewarded with a bigger paycheck, whichin turn might help ensure that they stay inthe job longer, gaining experience andbecoming more useful to the pharmacy.
Giving technicians expanded roles maynot be easy; but it could be a boon forpharmacists, not a threat.
Mr. Eckel is professor and director ofthe Office of Practice Developmentand Education at the School ofPharmacy, University of NorthCarolina at Chapel Hill.