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Pharmacy support staff members are stepping up and playing an outsize role in the pandemic response.
There is a new appreciation for the pharmacy profession and pharmacy professionals.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has put a spotlight on pharmacy practice. Media outlets across the country have been bursting with articles and video content featuring pharmacies serving their local communities. From specimen collections to point-of-care testing to the now megasized vaccine administration rollout, pharmacies are both busy and recognized by average Americans in a way that has never been seen before. The profession does not yet have its version of ER or Grey’s Anatomy, but, but pharmacy professionals are now viewed as essential workers by almost everyone.
Community pharmacy’s pandemic response would not be possible without well-appreciated, well-organized, and well-trained support
staff members. Many additional activities and functions have emerged for pharmacy technicians related to testing and vaccinations for COVID-19. These include as follows:
- additional data systems entry;
- initial counseling and interview (pharmacy “rooming” assistant);
- medical billing or revenue cycle management (nonproduct claims);
- patient monitoring immediately post vaccination;
- offsite clinic coordination and parking lot line management;
- outreach for at-risk individuals; and
- utility and operation scheduling.
The pandemic is transforming tens of thousands of pharmacies in ways obvious and not as they transition from a product-only model to a product-and-service model. With services comes a need for many more practitioner support staff members, particularly in a chronic care and population management model. One takeaway from primary care’s transition to the patient-centered medical home model was the need to surround physicians with the necessary support staff members to engage in value-based care delivery. As services grow in number and complexity, so does the need for program support staff members.
In this light, techs are often thought of and labeled by their roles as support staff members, perhaps even extenders, under the supervision of a pharmacist service provider. Maximization of pharmacists’ skills, time, and (now emerging) billing for efficiently delivered, high-quality services becomes an exercise in optimization.
New Roles Will Emerge
The traditional simplified roles of pharmacist, tech, and cashier will likely soon disappear. New roles and titles in multiple layers and specialized activities will emerge. One dispensing pharmacy near my home generates 71% of its profit margin from services, a feat not possible without many layers of clinical and support staff members, including many care coordination and data entry roles.
Future is Bright
These new roles will use tech certification and training as a base on which to build new skills and activity ownership. There are more than 200,000 pharmacists in practice, and for community pharmacies the traditional 2:1 ratio of pharmacists to techs will become stretched as roles emerge beyond product data entry and putting pills into bottles.1 Demand for certified techs and other support staff members should grow substantially over the
next decade.2 And thank goodness. As a 20-year floater in the pharmacy profession, nothing helps my job more than having a capable staff that is ready to help me throughout the day.
Troy Trygstad, PharmD, PhD, MBA, is vice president of pharmacy and provider partnerships for Community Care of North Carolina, which works collab- oratively with more than 2000 medical practices to serve more than 1.6 million Medicaid, Medicare, commercially insured, and uninsured patients. He received his PharmD and MBA degrees from Drake University and a PhD in pharmaceutical outcomes and policy from the University of North Carolina. He also serves on the board of directors of the American Pharmacists Association Foundation and the Pharmacy Quality Alliance.
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pharmacists. Updated February 18, 2021. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/ pharmacists.htm
- US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pharmacy technicians. Updated February 18, 2021. Accessed March 29, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/ pharmacy-technicians.htm