Steering clear of bad apples

July 10, 2006

Caution and vigilance can help pharmacists make the right choice when hiring technicians

DT CAPSULES

When it comes to technicians acting badly, pharmacists often learn too late that an ounce of prevention might have prevented a pound of cure. "Pharmacists need to be careful who they hire, and then never leave technicians unsupervised," said Carmen Catizone, R.Ph., DPh, executive director of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. "As in most things, the best defense is a strong offense."

"When we believe that a pharmacist has not done background checks and allowed technicians to work alone, then the pharmacist can be held responsible if something goes wrong," said Catizone. "It could even lead to the loss of licensure."

According to Catizone and others, state boards are becoming increasingly vigilant in monitoring the oversight responsibilities of pharmacists in relation to their technicians. That's because more technicians are being employed, and they are taking on more responsibility.

"As more and more technicians are being hired, there are bound to be more bad apples," said Melissa Murer Corrigan, R.Ph., executive director of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) in Washington, D.C. "Certification enhances a system of checks and balances in helping keep the very few bad apples out of the profession."

State board officials and leaders of organizations that either represent or certify technicians agree that three basic steps can limit liability and encourage good behavior on the part of the nation's pharmacy technicians-the vast majority of whom are trustworthy and highly effective. Those steps are:

Increasing role

Not so long ago, pharmacists were reluctant to delegate even routine work to technicians. But by the late 1990s, studies showed that pharmacists were increasingly willing to have techs take crucial ordering and dispensing roles-probably because fewer pharmacists were available to fill an increasing demand for their services-and more and more technicians were being hired.

Today there are more than 270,000 people employed as technicians, up from 150,000 just 10 years ago. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates technician employment could grow by as much as another 100,000 by the end of the decade, "much faster than the average for all occupations," according to a bureau study.

State boards of pharmacy oversee the regulation of the practice of pharmacy technicians, and practices differ widely. About 60% of states currently require registration or licensure of pharmacy technicians by their board of pharmacy. All state boards of pharmacy have amended their pharmacy practice acts and regulations in recent years to allow an expanded role for pharmacy techs in the delivery of pharmacy services. But only 31 states require pharmacy technicians to be trained.

Technicians are welcoming their increased responsibility and apparently want more: One study by Schering Laboratories found that only 58% of those working in independent pharmacies believed their knowledge and skills were being used to the maximum benefit.

What was particularly interesting in that study was that 85% of technicians in chain pharmacies believed that their skills were being sufficiently valued. That could be because chain pharmacies frequently place an emphasis on certification.