Significant changes in the delivery of health care services within the United States have resulted in additional responsibilities, as well as advancement opportunities for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. To meet these expanding professional obligations, pharmacists are delegating an increasing number of responsibilities classified as “technical tasks” to pharmacy technicians. Many of these responsibilities, traditionally performed by pharmacists, have been shifted to increase the available time for pharmacists to engage in direct patient care while ensuring continuity of pharmacy distributive and associated operational services.
Not surprisingly, major changes rarely occur without the emergence of major challenges. While the impetus for these changes has become clear, the pathway to implementing those changes has not. The most debated and divergent topics across the profession are focused on pharmacy technicians. Controversial issues include the adoption of profession-wide uniform standards for pharmacy technician education, training, and certification. Without standards, however, how can the profession evaluate pharmacy technician preparedness to work in a pharmacy and engage in activities that have a direct impact on patient safety and well-being? With a growing concern across the nation about prescription drug abuse and drug diversion, what strategies should the profession establish to help differentiate between individuals who desire to be technicians to serve patients and those who seek these positions to engage in illegal diversion activity?
What stance should the pharmacy profession assert to the public to instill a high degree of confidence and trust in those who are responsible for their care? In a 2016 national Public Opinion Survey conducted by KRC Research and commissioned by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), more than 90% of respondents indicated that their trust in the work of pharmacy technicians would increase if technicians were held to a uniform standard of training and certification.1
More than 75% of respondents also stated they would seek out a pharmacy where technician certification was required. How well is the profession meeting these public expectations? As of December 2016, 45 states required some form of registration or licensure for pharmacy technicians and 24 states included national certification as a/the method to achieve that requirement. However, 5 states have no regulations governing the use of technicians.2 Considering a 2015 projection of 379,430 pharmacy technician jobs nationally 3, a lack of uniform standards for this magnitude of pharmacy employees should be a major concern for the profession.
It is vital to conduct a profession-wide dialogue on entry-level pharmacy technician requirements, with a goal to definitively achieve meaningful and implementable consensus. To this end, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), and Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) will convene a Pharmacy Technician Stakeholder Consensus Conference in February 2017. This Dallas-based invitational conference will bring together key pharmacy stakeholders from across the national spectrum of the profession. Its purpose, in the face of tremendous variation across states and practice sites, is to facilitate extensive dialogue and gather recommendations on how best to ensure that pharmacy technicians are adequately prepared and competent to enter practice regardless of the setting. The conference will strive to develop consensus with respect to:
Approximately 100 attendees will include representatives from state boards of pharmacy, employers, educators, national/state and international pharmacy associations, accreditors, pharmacists, technicians, and the public. Results from a pre-conference survey that was widely distributed across all professional sectors and focused on consensus-seeking issues will inform discussions and deliberations. Conference proceedings will also be accessible via webinar.
The time is now for the profession to “step up.” A recent medication error exposé has demonstrated that when the profession doesn’t embrace a self-regulatory approach, unintended legislative solutions may be forced upon it.4 These remedies can result in the implementation of industry-wide requirements that may not be in the best interest of the profession nor its efforts toward patient care services advancement. More importantly though…our patients deserve nothing less.