Pharmacy Technicians: Essential for Independent Pharmacists

Pharmacy technicians are experiencing burnout, and there is a significant shortage of these health care professionals in many areas across the country. Pharmacy technicians are vital to communities, and independent pharmacies continue to recognize the value of their technicians and find ways to keep them satisfied to encourage retention.

Pharmacy technicians have long been the face of customer care.

More than half of all pharmacy technicians work in retail pharmacies, including chain drugstores and other pharmacies that incorporate convenience stores.

Pharmacy technicians help streamline workflow and make the pharmacist more efficient. They receive and confirm prescriptions, prepare prescriptions, fill scripts, manage inventory, and handle other tasks that free up the pharmacist’s time. Often, technicians have to call insurance companies when they receive a rejected claim on a prescription to get an override for the patient.

Top skills for pharmacy techs include:

  • Customer Service
  • Communication
  • Organization
  • Reliability

Pharmacy technicians are often the face of the pharmacy for the customer. They may have more time to talk to patients than the pharmacist. Although pharmacists must address specific questions about medications, the pharmacy tech’s responsibility is to field those questions and hand them off to the pharmacist when warranted.

Pharmacist shortages have led to expanded pharmacy technician tasks.

Community pharmacists have become increasingly responsible for providing direct patient care services. These responsibilities include medication therapy management (MTM), acute diagnosing of influenza and strep throat via point-of-care testing (POCT), and treatment of minor ailments.

Because of this added responsibility on the pharmacist, technicians are also now taking on a larger share of additional tasks formerly handled solely by pharmacists:

  • Pharmacy technicians complete 59% of product verification tasks.
  • Pharmacy technicians complete 42% of functions related to medication therapy management.
  • Pharmacy technicians prepare 37% of vaccines for pharmacist administration.
  • Pharmacy technicians complete 56% of medication history collection and reconciliation tasks.

Pharmacy technicians can also help increase revenue by offering OTC items, recommending appropriate nutrient depletion supplements, and answering questions about OTC medications.

Increased demands on pharmacy workflow and technicians due to COVID-19

Due to COVID-19, specific mandates enabled pharmacy technicians to provide services formerly out of scope, as demands on pharmacists’ time have increased due to additional pandemic-related patient care.

Idaho, Rhode Island, and Utah have had pharmacy practice regulations for years that authorize pharmacy technicians to administer vaccinations. In certain states, pharmacy technicians can now perform POCT to help enable greater preventative and supportive care for COVID-19 and help reduce emergency department visits. 

On a national level, pharmacy technicians' vaccination administration skill sets expanded when the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act guidance in October 2020 authorized pharmacy technicians to administer COVID-19 and routine childhood vaccines. 

Additional guidance from HHS announced in the fall of 2020 authorizes state-licensed pharmacists — and state-licensed registered pharmacy interns acting under the supervision of a qualified pharmacist — to order and administer COVID-19 vaccinations to individuals three years of age and older. 

The growing problem of pharmacy technician burnout and associated shortages

A 2017 study noted that, among clinical pharmacists, the burnout rate was 61.2%. Further, this rate could "spill over" to technicians. By 2021, a study specifically targeting pharmacy techs revealed that they reported burnout.

The demands of COVID-19 added pressure to existing work stressors. According to an ASHP Research and Education 2019 Pharmacy Forecast survey, most respondents predicted that burnout from the increasing pressure of advanced practice roles and the complexity of health care would raise the annual turnover rate for front-line pharmacists to at least 15%. To help prevent burnout in pharmacy technicians, pharmacies should implement systems that automate repetitive tasks, ensure their techs know how to access mental health services, and give specific guidance and support. 

According to a 2021 National Community Pharmacists Association survey, 68% of independent community pharmacies are having difficulty filling staff positions, with 88% stating that pharmacy technicians are in short supply. Further, 68% of respondents indicated that staffing shortages had increased prescription dispensing times. 

Independent pharmacies can utilize their pharmacy software and technology to streamline workflow and alleviate any unnecessary workload burdens on technicians, helping increase workplace satisfaction.

Outlook for pharmacy technicians

It's not clear whether pharmacy technicians will maintain their ability to act as immunizers. When HHS suspends the public health emergency declaration, many pharmacy technicians will have completed an ACPE-approved training to administer vaccinations. These technicians will not be permitted to continue immunizing unless their states formalize this expanded scope of practice. Still, the number of individual states confirming this role will likely increase.  

While the exact nature of the roles and capabilities expected from pharmacy techs may change over time, their functions (like pharmacists' roles) continue to expand. Pharmacy technicians trained in information technology have become experts in day-to-day telepharmacy operations, opening even more ways pharmacy technicians can add value.  

The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) recently introduced online proctored exams for credential candidates and extended recertification deadlines for recertification to support the approximately 288,000 PTCB CPhTs required to recertify every two years. PTCB has also launched a new directory of free continuing education courses. Encouraging pharmacy technicians to take advantage of these opportunities can also increase their value and help them diversify their skills. 

Pharmacy technicians are invaluable to pharmacy operations and patient care. As their workloads continue to become heavier and their responsibilities more complex, pharmacies should ensure that the value of pharmacy techs is recognized and supported. TDS offers pharmacy solutions designed to provide this support, including workflow optimization tools, inventory management, and patient scheduling capabilities that technicians can appreciate. Click here to learn more about TDS.

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