Experts Discuss the Growing Role of Pharmacy Technicians During COVID-19

In a panel, pharmacy technicians across the world discuss how the role for pharmacy technicians will continue to grow post-pandemic in United States, Portugal, and the United Kingdom.

Q: How has the role of the pharmacy technician grown during COVID-19? And how is the role continuing to grow post pandemic?

João José Joaquim: If you will allow me to add some information to the previous question. At the EAPT, European Association [of Pharmacy Technicians], we have some surveys about the comparison of education, roles for community, and roles for hospital, you can find it the surveys at EAPT.info We are updating, and I think Samantha said that the things are changing. When we do the first survey, we can compare with the new survey, and we can see this the things are changing the tasks, the role is more or less the same, but the tasks are heading because the things are developing about the pandemic.

In the beginning, it was, I think all over the world, very complicated. The first month of pandemic was very busy, the workload increases a lot, a lot of patients, a lot of questions, a lot of thoughts. The people seeing the news information in, and sometimes they don't have competencies to understand everything. They go to the pharmacy is requesting medicines, because they hear in TV, reading newspapers or in Facebook. So it was very confusing, and it's very hard for the professionals.

After that, we close the country, we have a lockdown and things be more stable. We prepare the pharmacies to protect professionals and protect the patients. In Portugal, we have a chance to buy medicines, through internet, but directly with a pharmacy. If you are at your home and you have a prescription, you can ask if you can deliver the medicines to a pharmacy. So it's also a possibility that the patients don't go to the pharmacies, but the pharmacy go to the home of the patients to deliver the medicines. Now, of course, things are completely different, but it was very, very hard in the beginning.

Let me tell you something. Here in Portugal, we heard a lot of people in the beginning of the pandemic, saying that we are not prepared for that, and I don't agree. Because I think we have the knowledge, we have the skills, we have the competencies, and this is what makes the difference between a bigger tragedy, I think we have competencies, and we are preparing. We are not aware of that because never happened, this all over the world. I think we have everything we need to deal with the problem, and I think it was a good answer at least here. I don't know all over the world, but I think the most part of the countries has the right professionals with the right skills and competencies to deal with this big problem. We share a lot [of] information between the authorities, the countries, even in our association, we talk about that with our clients from different countries, what's happened in each country. So it was also very fruitful the season, except the deaths in the pandemic.

Samantha Quaye: I think I would build on what you’re saying about the vaccinations and the skills that we already have. We’re very much in demand when COVID hit and you’ll have seen in the UK, we snapped up loads of the vaccines early on, and then people realize that actually to make those up, because initially it wasn’t a ready to administer dose, to make those up, they needed training to be able to draw up safely. Who did they come to? Pharmacy technicians, who are doing this in a septic dispensing, or compounding as you might call it in your country.

Pharmacy technician stepped up to kind of show people provide the training for doctors, nurses, other health care professionals, to be able to make up the vaccine in the first place. Then in other sectors in community pharmacy, in primary care, and across the country, they were working in vaccination centers, there again, preparing those is that also administering them as well. The legislation changed in within the UK so that it was allowed that there will be an assessment of patients and pharmacy technicians and others were able to then administer the COVID vaccine, which had been a huge change.

I think the other thing in terms of the role was growing during the pandemic, there are lots of different ways that this happened, but within hospital environment, we had, obviously, a lot more people who are much more sick and ended up overwhelming our intensive care unit. We had our pharmacy technicians redeployed to the ICU, and they were also helping to prepare those ready to administer doses for our nursing teams. They just got amazing feedback from the team because the nursing teams were able to go and support their patients in different ways in a kind of hands-on care way, rather than having to concentrate on how to make up the various doses that they needed for their patient in terms of medication. We are medication experts, and we’re able to step up from that perspective.

Also within England, I’m not sure if you heard that we had field hospital called Nightingale hospitals, they almost like the overflow. Pharmacy technicians at the height of the pandemic were key to running those safely in terms of procurement, face storage, and supply of medicines, in a fast paced and quite unfamiliar environment. We took up that task, and I think we delivered on that. I think that’s just some of the ways in which the roles have grown during the pandemic from an acute perspective.

I think the second part of your question was how will that change post pandemic? I suppose so. I think by showing what pharmacy technicians can do, there’s definitely been more openness to considering pharmacy technicians for roles that traditionally might have been undertaken by other health care professionals. Also the patients and the public are much more aware I think of pharmacy technician before it’d be like, what’s that? Is it pharmacists? No, we’re pharmacy technicians. So now people know that because people were coming to get their lateral flow test, coming to get their immunizations, coming to get supported medicines from community pharmacies who stayed open throughout the whole pandemic, right from the beginning. We’re all kind of troopers in providing that face-to-face health care when other places were not necessarily able to do that. I think the role will continue to evolve organically in all centers, and we have pharmacy technicians working in such a variety of roles that that will now be considered more openly than perhaps it was before the pandemic.

Tiffany Kofroth: Here in the United States, it hit us pretty hard. I will say, that working in an institution or a hospital system, there was not any closing of the doors we were in an inpatient hospital. Our pharmacy technicians still needed to come to work and provide that care for our patients that were coming in. Of course, we had limited outpatient services, but those patients still needed to receive their chemotherapy treatments and their pre-meds, and all the other things that went with their treatment of care. Technicians have evolved and will be always evolving. There is a specialty certification for technicians to immunize patients. That is a national certification that came through pretty much right around the time COVID started.

[Pharmacy Technician Certification Board] had saw that there was an increased perspective for that, so they rolled that out very quickly got the technicians the education that they needed and provided specialty training for that. We have many technicians throughout the nation who are actually giving the COVID vaccine to the patients in those retail settings in those hospital settings. Where it is allowed, of course, it's not for every single institution to do, but there are certain rural areas or more areas in the country, not so much in the city, where technicians have really shined in that perspective.

As far as roles within my institution, we've actually rotated a lot of our roles that are a non-clinical role to working remote. A lot of our technicians are working remote, especially in like a data analyst situation where they're really just in front of a computer screen most of the day; there's no interaction with patients. Those roles have become much more popular. We do have hybrid roles as well. The technician can be at home some days; they can be in the office. That is definitely a change to our practice.

Then we also, pre-pandemic, we have always had systems in place and through apps on our phone to contact a doctor and to get the medications that we need and that has really, really expanded since the pandemic. We have online apps and things that are covered by our insurance, where we talk with the physician through our phone, they provide the prescription to the pharmacy, and then the pharmacy can they like “they can either pick it up in a noncontact drive thru or that prescription can be sent home.”

All of those things have really helped throughout the pandemic, to make sure not only the pharmacy staff is being compliant, and really watching their personal health, but then also protecting the patient as well, especially if they're contagious. So those are some of the roles that had happened during the pandemic, and I think it'll continue to change. The profession is one of those things where we're always going to be changing roles. It's always going to be something new that comes about, and we'll learn as much as we can. We'll see where pharmacy technicians fit in, and then we'll just keep on increasing the roles that we do. It's about working at the top of your licensure, and we really insure it in the United States to make sure our technicians can do that.