Pandemic allows technicians to shine and be increasingly viewed as key to streamlining workflow.
There is no doubt that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the dynamics in most if not all health care settings.
COVID-19 screenings, mandatory masks, and temperature checks are now common practices. One of the initial changes in pharmacy was the approval of pharmacists to order and administer COVID-19 testing following a statement on April 8, 2020, from the US Department of Health and Human Services.1 This is the first authorization of its kind for pharmacists to order and administer a test without the approval of or collaboration with a physician.
With the addition of testing in many pharmacies, changes in workflow for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians became a necessity. Even in pharmacies that were already performing other clinical services, such as flu or strep testing, the sheer demand for COVID-19 testing forced a drastic and immediate shift in daily workflow functions.
Changes in direct patient care roles included developing policies and procedures, handling paperwork, implementing patient and personal protections and testing procedures, managing the influx of phone calls, completing clinical skills training, and scheduling appointments. Previously, the daily tasks had centered around checkout, data intake, inventory, and packaging.
Techs have been ushered to the front line of serving their communities’ needs related to the pandemic. This has required additional training for chronic care intake, immunization training, and point-of-care testing. Tech workflow changes allowed for a streamlined process, from patient intake to patient interaction. Emergency regulation allowed pharmacists and techs to practice at the top of their licenses to provide much needed clinical services in the community, including COVID-19 vaccinations.2
Techs have been crucial in successful implementation of testing and increases in daily vaccinations. As the most accessible health care providers, pharmacists can use trained techs to help with testing and vaccination duties as the demand for direct clinical services has reached an all-time high. State regulations should allow techs to continue serve in these critical roles to improve overall patient health outcomes. Federal and state and federal regulations should also allow pharmacists and techs to continue to provide standard vaccines for adults and children, which are critical, particularly in underserved areas. Also, with the increase of telemedicine during COVID-19, the demand for point-of-care services has increased in the community pharmacy space. Regulations would allow these services in the community, reducing sick days and treatment time for contagious and infectious acute conditions.
The advancing role of techs seems to have had a positive impact on job satisfaction for pharmacists and techs. Patients have also been positive about the changing roles in direct patient care provided by pharmacists and techs. Personally, I have seen more gratitude from patients for our pharmacy and staff members in the past year than I had in my entire pharmacy career. Meeting the demands of COVID-19 has been not only exhausting but also extremely rewarding for my entire staff.
Professional organizations, such as the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, have recognized the importance of the advancement of technicians over the past 2 years. Before the pandemic, the need had been met for certified technicians to complete an advanced certified pharmacy technician program to differentiate skill levels among techs.
The pandemic has further propelled the view that techs are a vital force that keeps pharmacy workflow streamlined while pharmacists provide clinical services and prescriptions. These additional skills will continue advancing the profession, requiring higher levels of education to fill the role of an advanced tech, and salary increases to reflect the skill level needed to complete the demanding tasks required. For these reasons, the profession not only needs advanced trained techs but also is ready to embrace them in advanced clinical roles. The future looks exciting for pharmacists and techs as the world continues navigating the challenges of the pandemic, as well as the need for continuing and extended clinical services outside COVID-19.
Amber Suthers, CPhT, MSAH, is the clinical services manager at Surgoinsville Pharmacy in Rogersville, Tennessee.
Beth Bryan, PharmD, is a pharmacist at Surgoinsville Pharmacy.