Health system pharm tech roles expand

October 8, 2009
Fred Gebhart, Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Fred Gebhart works all over the world as a freelance writer and editor, but his home base is in San Francisco.

Hospitals and health systems have taken the lead in expanding the role of pharmacy technicians. "The better educated techs are, the more they can support pharmacists," says Mary Mohr, RPh, MS, of Clarian Health.

Key Points

Hospitals and health systems have taken the lead in expanding the roles of pharmacy technicians. While retail techs tend to focus on drug distribution, health-system techs are settling into nuclear pharmacy, sterile compounding, medication reconciliation, inventory management, scheduling, investigational drug trials, refill triage, quality assurance, pharmacy automation, and other matters.

"We are seeing multiple practice opportunities for technicians, especially in health systems," said Mary Mohr, RPh, MS, program director for the Clarian Health pharmacy technician program. "The better educated techs are, the more they can do, and the more they can support pharmacists."

Two key drivers are pushing technician education and training, Mohr said. One is a rising tide of state regulation requiring certification of pharmacy technicians. The other is the growing number of health systems insisting on both certification and training in a program accredited by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists (ASHP).

More accreditation activity sounds good to Barbara Lacher, BS, R.Ph.Tech, associate professor and assistant director for the North Dakota State College of Science Pharmacy Technician Program. NDSC modeled its technician program based on pharmacy programs focused on professional education. "We don't train somebody to work 'just retail' or 'just hospital,' " Lacher said. "We educate techs to work in all settings, just as we educate pharmacists to work in all settings. That's why we are comfortable with technicians running telepharmacy operations where there is no pharmacist. We know that our techs aren't just trained to perform specific job functions; they're educated professionals."

Pharmacists and technicians are changing the way techs are talked about, said Rebecca Rabbitt, PharmD, MS, CEO, Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians. What started as a job evolved into a profession with several career paths. Both pharmacists and technicians now embrace standardized training and certification followed by ongoing continuing education.

"Technicians are excited at the increased availability of tech-specific CE," Rabbitt said. Tech-specific CE has focused on issues such as patient safety and error reduction, with learning objectives specific to their needs. "The adoption and support of standardized, accredited education and training programs, and certification requirements have created an opportunity for technicians to become an even greater force within health care," she added.

Techs are getting a significant boost from pharmacy, said Melissa Corrigan, executive director of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. In August, the Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy published a framework calling for national standards for education, training, certification, and regulation of pharmacy techs in all practice settings. "If a clinical pharmacist is going to delegate, that pharmacist needs to know, without doubt, that the tech is appropriately educated, trained, and credentialed."