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.
Most other health care professionsrequire standard qualificationsfor personnel who assistin delivering health care. This helpscreate a framework for safely deliveringcare. For example, a clear division existsbetween the optometrist, who exercisesprofessional judgment in performing eyeexaminations and writing prescriptions,and the qualified opticians who fit andhelp patients select eyeglasses. Theseroles take full advantage of the differingeducational and skill levels of everyoneinvolved, and they are well understoodand accepted by patients.
Pharmacy may be the only majorhealth care profession that remains anexception to this rule. Pharmacy stilllacks universally applied standards thatensure that all technicians are qualifiedto take on the same routine tasks.
We have, of course, made progress. Aquarter of a million technicians haveachieved certification from the PharmacyTechnician Certification Board (PTCB) andare applying their training to supportpharmacists nationwide.
I believe that, as a profession, we havenot adequately dealt with the issue ofdelegation to qualified supportive personnel.It is time that we did so.
This idea is rapidly gaining support. Forexample, the American Pharmacists Association(APhA) has been working ondefining a policy for pharmacy technicianeducation and training, encapsulated in 5proposed policy statements presented atits recent annual meeting.
On the one hand, these statementsreaffirm pharmacists' authority for controllingthe distribution process and thepersonnel involved and their responsibilityfor completed medication orders. Atthe same time, the statements supportthe growth and universal use of accreditationprograms. The statements encouragestate boards to require, by 2015, thatall new pharmacy technicians completean accredited education and training programand become PTCB-certified. Theproposal also supports required stateboard licensure for pharmacy techniciansand encourages boards to developa process for current technicians tobecome licensed.
One reason that we need to make progressis explained in the APhA statement:"Pharmacists must establish a frameworkthat justifies the confidence of its patients inthose who care for them." Other reasonsexist as well. Unless we are able to delegate,it will be difficult for us to move intoadvisory health care roles that really requirea pharmacist's professional judgment.
Pharmacy technicians have a majorrole to play. Even though some of us remainconcerned about delegating to technicians,the evidence suggests that welltrainedtechnicians can perform routinetasks. It is time that we establish universalstandards that ensure the competenceof technicians and recognize their role.