Changes at pharmacies will spur demand for skilled technicians

PIT PT DemandForSkillBy Jason Gray

Walk-in clinics, on-demand vaccinations and screening services are appearing at an increasing number of drug stores and pharmacies nationwide. The expansion into basic health care services gives consumers a new community hub for routine care.

This new business model has meant an expanding role for pharmacy technicians, and while the supply of technicians has been able to keep pace with demand, many pharmacies are seeking individuals with experience and great skills. That underscores the importance of a sound education for pharmacist technicians – one that is steeped in the fundamentals of the trade. Great skills can be a springboard to career advancement.

Pharmacy technicians have traditionally been the licensed pharmacist’s assistants. They speak with patients, help dispense prescriptions and perform a range of daily, administrative tasks. As health care reform and co-located health clinics have changed the pharmacy business model, the pharmacy technician role has changed, as well.

There are about 1,600 clinics serving 20 million patient visits across the United States, according to the Harvard Business Review. By co-locating with existing neighborhood pharmacies and drug stores, they provide a convenient, fast and low-cost alternative to primary care physician offices.

Pharmacy chains see a potential benefit for their business. They use the clinics to encourage patients to fill prescriptions with them, and ideally continue to use that pharmacy for other needs.


A bigger role in patient treatment

Most walk-in pharmacies use nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to see patients for routine care and minor illnesses. Pharmacy technicians who work at the host pharmacy will often play a supporting role, particularly in recording and archiving data. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half all pharmacy technicians work at retail drug stores and pharmacies.

Adding clinic services means pharmacy employees are adding clinic-specific duties to their normal workload, which was already changing in recent years. Health care reform acts require electronic health records system usage across nearly all health care providers and facilities. Pharmacy technicians often enter information into these systems and inform the pharmacist on duty if there are changes or alerts in the patient’s records.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, a national organization of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, says pharmacy technicians will play an increasingly vital role in ensuring pharmacies are well-integrated in the overall health information technology system. “Such roles require pharmacy technicians to gain expertise in information technology systems, including knowledge of interfaces, computer management techniques, problem resolution, and database maintenance,” according to the ASHP.

Aging demographics in the United States will also drive more job growth and opportunities for pharmacy technicians. “A larger amount of middle-aged and elderly people – who typically take more prescription drugs than those who are younger – will drive the need for technicians in all practice surroundings,” according to the ASHP.


A need for more experience

A 2013 ASHP study showed that there was a 4.2 percent vacancy rate for pharmacy technicians, and a 2.1 percent gap for pharmacists. “The survey indicates that even though the number of pharmacist positions continues to increase in hospitals and health systems, the supply of pharmacists is able to keep up with the demand,” said Douglas J. Scheckelhoff, M.S., ASHP vice president of practice advancement.

But many pharmacist and pharmacy technician candidates are short of experience. “A majority of pharmacy directors continues to perceive moderate to severe shortages of pharmacy managers (60.6 percent) and experienced pharmacy technicians (56.1 percent),” according to the ASHP study authors.

“With technicians assuming a greater role, ASHP advocates that they be required to complete more accredited training and certification programs,” Scheckelhoff said. “This way employers can be assured that their technicians have the foundational knowledge and training and have shown that they are competent. Currently, state regulations are inconsistent with regards to training and certification requirements.”

As innovations like pharmacy walk-in clinics continue to expand, demand for skilled pharmacy technicians will grow. But people who choose a pharmacy technician career will need to ensure that they have comprehensive training and the flexibility to keep up with changes in the healthcare system.