editor'sNOTE: Training Pharmacy Technicians
Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MSPharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief
Mr. Eckel is professor and director ofthe Office of Practice Developmentand Education at the School ofPharmacy, University of North Carolinaat Chapel Hill.
Pharmacy faces an interestingchallenge. Pharmacists have ahuge opportunity to take on anexpanded role in helping patients managetheir medication; however, to do this,we need to offload more routine tasks.
More than a quarter million certifiedpharmacy technicians could take on moreof these everyday jobs. The question is,how can we ensure they consistentlyhave the knowledge and capabilities tosafely handle broader responsibilities?
Certification is an important steptoward developing a well-qualified technicianworkforce. More than 250,000technicians have passed the PharmacyTechnician Certification Board (PTCB)exam since its inception in 1995.Although not all states require it, thegrowing enthusiasm for certification hasresulted in the growth of a second program,the Exam for the Certification ofPharmacy Technicians.
Technicians who have passed theseexams should be commended. Certificationbenefits pharmacists and thepublic, as well as helping to advancetechnicians' careers. Some states alreadyrecognize the value of certificationby allowing higher technician?pharmacistratios and the ability to hand offsome tasks, such as prescription transferrequests.
Is it enough, however, to simply passan exam? Many pharmacists are concernedabout inconsistency in the qualityof knowledge and expertise among pharmacytechnicians, even those who havepassed the PTCB exam.
Ultimately, technicians should be ableto handle more responsible roles andcarry them out with a degree of autonomy.We need to feel confident that atleast part of the technician workforcehas the expertise to do this reliably andsafely. A growing consensus amongpharmacists and employers suggeststhat the way to this consistent high standardis by implementing a formal trainingprogram in addition to exams. Trainingprograms already exist in most states, soin many cases, this requirement could bemet relatively easily.
The potential payoff could be huge.With adequate training, suitably qualifiedtechnicians could handle additionalorder-fulfillment jobs. Perhaps those jobscould include prescription refills—a taskthat requires a certain level of knowledge,but not a trained pharmacist'sjudgment.
Once routine work has been safelyreassigned, pharmacists can focus onnew areas. We could save the health caresystem billions of dollars a year just byimproving patient adherence to medication,for example. By finding a way tosafely expand the responsibilities of qualifiedpharmacy technicians, we will openup new roles for ourselves—increasingour value to society and ensuring survivalin a competitive health care system.