Here are 5 ways their responsibilities could change because of COVID-19.
Pharmacies are playing a major role in the response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis, perhaps in part because of to their accessibility. Ninety percent of Americans live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy,1 which makes pharmacists and pharmacy technicians (techs) among the country’s most accessible health care professionals.
As the pharmacists’ role is elevated to help combat the coronavirus, so too is the techs’. Some changes in responsibilities are already taking place, and it is likely that these will expand and eventually become permanent.
Here are 5 predictions based on trends that show how the role of techs could forever be changed by COVID-19.
1. Increased drive-through COVID19 testing at pharmacies could mean more techs administering tests. Many states now allow pharmacists to administer point-of-care testing for acute illnesses and chronic conditions. With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, more states have removed barriers to allow pharmacies to administer tests for the virus.2 Large retail pharmacies, such as CVS, Health Mart, Kroger, Rite Aid, and Walmart, have already established drivethrough testing sites at select locations. If these sites are successful, it is likely that we will see even more testing performed at pharmacies across the country, amplifying the need for techs to help perform the vital COVID-19 test.
2. More techs could give immunizations. More states are allowing pharmacists and techs to administer vaccinations. In 2013, an additional 4.1 million adults were vaccinated at pharmacies, and the odds that an adult would receive the influenza shot at pharmacies increased by 7.8% in states that allowed for it.1 When a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is released, an all-hands-on-deck approach will be required to ensure that Americans get vaccinated. This increase in demand is likely to encourage more states to empower licensed techs to administer vaccinations, according to Lorri Walmsley, RPh, FAzPA, director of pharmacy affairs at Walgreens in Phoenix, Arizona.
“As we anticipate the call for the large-scale, expedited administration of COVID-19 vaccinations, enabling technicians to administer immunizations under appropriate supervision and conditions has the potential to save lives and accelerate the nation’s recovery from the pandemic,” she said. “Expanding the ability to have trained technicians also administer immunizations will allow pharmacists to spend more time providing high-quality pharmacy care to our patients.”
3. The fast-tracked push to elevate the tech role will continue. “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the important role pharmacists and technicians play in supporting the health of communities across the nation,” Walmsley said. “While many states have recognized this through recent actions to expand technician scope of practice and increase or eliminate technician-to-pharmacist ratio requirements, there is still more to be done to enable technicians to practice at the top of their capabilities and provide patients with an additional point of access to the health care system.”
The role of the tech has been slowly expanding in recent years, and it is likely the pandemic will accelerate that growth. More states have granted provider status to pharmacists, which also elevates techs’ role.
“COVID-19 has forced pharmacies to turn the corner and become a clinical epicenter for patient care, and it is evident that without advancing the pharmacy technician, this is not possible,” said Adam Chesler, director of regulatory affairs at Cardinal Health in Dallas, Texas. “COVID-19 has unveiled the curtain on the impact a pharmacist can have on patient care, but it also showed the only way pharmacists can succeed in the clinical world is with empowered technicians: taking patients’ blood pressure [and other] vitals, administering immunizations, and maintaining the product workflow in a pharmacy.”
4. Telehealth and the ability to work across state lines will become more common. In a joint set of policy recommendations published by major pharmacy organizations in response to COVID-19, one recommendation was to reduce operational barriers.1 By allowing pharmacists and techs with valid credentials to operate across state lines, this would open the door to telehealth. Additionally, techs could perform some tasks remotely, including entering orders and practicing telepharmacy under supervision.
Telehealth has been propelled forward during the pandemic to reduce unnecessary in-person visits and therefore reduce the virus spread. Pharmacies must adapt to this advancement in providing their services remotely and be prepared to receive prescriptions from telehealth appointments. According to Chesler, remote work is becoming standard practice, and now that it is here, it is likely to stay.
5. Technician training and certification classes will move online. The rapid shift to remote learning as schools stopped in-person classes was difficult for many colleges and training centers throughout the country. But for some schools, such as Pensacola State College in Florida, the transition was smooth because there was not much to change. More classes were already shifting to an online format, according to Julie Burger, MPH, CPH, CHES, CPhT, director of the college’s Pharmacy Technician Program.
“We have always tried to ensure our program allowed for flexibility with online learning, so many of our assignments were delivered in a hybrid format and did not require much modification, if any,” she said.
The program’s state-of-the-art simulation lab allows students to experience the closest thing to hands-on learning while in a remote setting. The use of simulation technology in health care education was already becoming more common,3 and the trend will likely continue, perhaps even more so in response to COVID-19.
In addition to schools, testing centers that proctor tech certification exams have been closed because of the pandemic. In response, the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), which administers the ExCPT certification exam, has implemented live remote proctoring that allows candidates to take their certification exams from home.4 This has been approved for a temporary period by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which accredits the NHA’s certification exams.
“It’s NHA’s hope that upon NCCA reviewing the data from this temporary period, live remote proctoring [LRP] will gain permanent approval and provide our candidates with another option,” said Jeremy Sasser, a pharmacy content strategist at the NHA. “I believe candidates will continue to embrace the use of LRP, even when testing centers are reopened,” he continued. “Even though there are a lot of testing centers around the United States, there are still many geographical areas where candidates have to travel long distances from where they live or work in order to utilize a proctor site.”