Standardization a Pressing Issue for Pharmacy Technicians


Diane Halvorson, RPhTech, CPhT, of North Dakota has been named the Pharmacy Technician of the Year for 2017 by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board.

As Diane Halvorson, RPhTech, CPhT, Lead Pharmacy Technician at Vibra Hospital in Fargo, ND, prepares to accept her award as the 2016 Certified Pharmacy Technician of the Year, she will continue her work promoting the standardization of technician education and training. The award is presented annually by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).

 Halvorson is a strong advocate for national standardization of technician education, preparation, and credentials. “It was shocking to me when I learned years ago that there were people working in pharmacies who did not have standardized training,” said Halvorson. “When I came to realize that the majority of medication errors were due to lack of education and preparation, I became dedicated to advancing national standards for technicians.”

The public is very much in agreement with Halvorson. In a quantitative survey that was recently conducted by KRC Research for PTCB among 1,000 adults aged 18 and older, 94% of those surveyed responded that standardized training and certification would increase their trust in the work of pharmacy technicians.

Other conclusions of the 2016 survey:

  • 85% said it’s very important for technicians who prepared prescriptions to be certified.

  • 74% thought that pharmacies should only hire technicians who are certified.

  • 76% said that they would seek out a different pharmacy if they knew technicians working in their current pharmacy were not certified.

  • Frequent pharmacy visitors were even more likely (79%) to seek a pharmacy where technicians are certified.

At the same time, 77% of those surveyed were under the misperception that all pharmacy technicians are required by law to be trained and certified before they can prepare prescriptions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Regulations vary from state to state, according to information supplied by PTCB. Fewer than half the states include certification in their regulations, and if they include it, do not necessarily require it. Five states have no regulations at all for pharmacy technicians.

“I think a patient walking into any pharmacy in any state should know that the person helping prepare their prescription has met the standardized requirements for knowledge and training that the pharmacy profession says they need to do their job,” said Halvorson.   

Halvorson pointed out that the diversity from state to state regarding education and training can impact the technician who moves to another state and seeks employment. She suggested that technicians established a model similar to the Model Practice Act established by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

 Standardization and certification can enhance the role of the technician, according to Halvorson. “Pharmacy technicians who can effectively perform the technical aspect of the job can free the pharmacist for the clinical duties. And together, pharmacists and technicians can work toward the end result of patient safety. The pharmacist has a better day with the tech excelling,” she said.

“Technicians are the foundation of a pharmacy. Pharmacists can’t do their work without technicians,” said Everett McAllister, MPA, RPh, PTCB Executive Director and CEO. “And employers value education.” Technicians who come to the job with solid training have a better chance to progress up the career ladder, he added.

Halvorson, for example, has served as interim Pharmacy Manager at Vibra Hospital, which is a 31-bed long-term acute care facility that serves patients coming from intensive care. While in that role, she was instrumental in electronic medical records implementation and took the lead to educate staff to expand patient/medication barcode scanning to a usage level of 98%, according to information from PTCB.

She also established a new process for insulin dispensing, placing it in the automated medication system, so employees now retrieve a patient’s insulin using a barcode label. Under the old system, she said it was too easy to “grab the wrong bottle” out of the drawer.  Since implementing the new system for insulin, “we haven’t had the insulin errors we’ve had in the past; there is less waste and costs have decreased,” Halvorson told Drug Topics.

Halvorson has served on the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy for the past six years, including two terms as president of the board. Halvorson said she was appointed to the board when the configuration of the board changed and added a member who would be a technician.  Calling the North Dakota technicians a “progressive group,” Halvorson said there were several applications for the position among technicians, and she was ultimately appointed. She said she serves on an “equal basis” with the pharmacist members.    

McAllister pointed out that only about ten pharmacy boards nationwide have a technician member, but others are exploring the possibility. He acknowledged the openness and willingness of the North Dakota Board to accept a technician as a member.

But even if not appointed to a board, “technicians can get involved on the state and federal levels and let their voices he heard,” said McAllister. “By getting involved, the technician can be a catalyst for change,” within their profession.

Stressing the important role technicians play in patient care in the community setting, McAllister noted one area in the hospital setting in which he would like to see the role of the pharmacy technician expand. “Technicians can have a bigger role in the transition of care,” McAllister said. “It’s often a challenge for patients the first 30 days after discharge. The technician can work with the patient [to ensure medication compliance] and keep that patient from being re-admitted.”

Halvorson will accept her award at a luncheon event during the APhA Annual Meeting and Exposition on March 26 in San Francisco. “Diane has an impressive record of leadership on behalf of pharmacy technicians. She is committed to promoting technicians as an integral part of the health care team within their scope of practice,” McAllister concluded.

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