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Drug and Pharmacy Practice: Evolving pharm tech roles call for expanded training, certification

This article first appeared in the May 2011 issue of Drug Topics newsmagazine (drugtopics.com).

In 1966, one of pharmacy’s great leaders, Professor Linwood Tice, then Dean of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, stated: “[T]he counting and pouring often alleged to be the pharmacist’s chief occupation will in time be done by technicians and eventually by automation. The pharmacist of tomorrow will function by reason of what he knows, increasing the efficiency and safety of drug therapy and working as a specialist in his own right. It is in this direction that pharmaceutical education must evolve without delay.”

Pharmacists’ roles

As the pharmacy profession fulfills Professor Tice’s prophetic words, the pharmacist continues to move into more sophisticated roles as an integrated member of the healthcare delivery team. Pharmacists have long been providers of cognitive services; now they are being recognized increasingly for these contributions.

Indeed, as perceptions of the pharmacist’s role undergo a paradigm shift, services are being expanded in ways never before imagined. Today, pharmacists have embraced areas such as medication therapy management, medication reconciliation, disease management, patient immunization, patient-specific education, and healthcare coaching. These services are now valued to the extent that the pharmacy profession is even receiving financial compensation for them.

Shared responsibilities

With the expansion of pharmacist roles come the burdens of managing the existing obligations embedded in professional pharmacy practice, responsibilities that have always been and should remain a part of pharmacy practice. Technicians, when appropriately trained and certified, can help fulfill many delegated functions in the pharmacy. These functions include but are not limited to assisting in prescription dispensing, compounding, prepackaging, maintaining and optimizing automation, purchasing, billing, computer data input, and inventory maintenance.

Other more advanced areas of involvement include supervisory roles over other technicians, tech-check-tech opportunities, and operational support of immunization and pharmacist-run patient-care clinics.

Oversight of pharm techs

With the onslaught of expanded technician roles, it is imperative that several things occur in order to ensure patient safety and continued optimal therapeutic outcomes without adverse incident.

  • First, the pharmacist should be involved in any oversight of delegated pharmacy technician functions.
  • Second, the pharmacy technician should be required to pass and maintain a certification prior to engaging in any delegated functions.
  • Third, states and their respective pharmacy boards should pass laws and regulations encompassing the types of activities a technician is able to engage in under a pharmacist’s oversight.

Certification. With respect to certification of the pharmacy technician, there are several reputable organizations that offer proper certification. Among them is the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB), which was established in January 1995 and is governed by 5 organizations: the American Pharmacists Association; the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists; the Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists; the Michigan Pharmacists Association; and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Another example of a certifying entity is ExCPT, which is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

Regulation. Finally, states should focus legislative and regulatory initiatives to further develop the area of pharmacy-technician laws within the construct of their respective pharmacy practice acts. This might include requiring registration of pharmacy technicians or recognizing their certification as a means for assuming expanded pharmacy duties.

At minimum, pharmacy boards should consider requiring policy initiatives and work through national organizations such as NABP to ensure that standardization of requirements takes place uniformly on a national scale.

With these initiatives in mind, pharmacy technicians can help move the pharmacy profession forward in the provision of safe and effective patient care.

This article is not intended as legal advice and should not be used as such. When legal questions arise, pharmacists should consult with attorneys familiar with the relevant drug and pharmacy laws.

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Ned Milenkovich, PharmD, JD, is a member at McDonald Hopkins LLC, and chairs the Drug & Pharmacy Industry Practice Group. He is a member of the Illinois State Board of Pharmacy. He can be reached at 312.642.1480 or at nmilenkovich@mcdonaldhopkins.com.