When you visit your local pharmacy, do you know who is serving you at the front counter? Chances are, it might be the unsung workhorse of the pharmacy – the Pharmacy Technician (Techs). While many of us may have spoken to them more often than the pharmacist, the role of the Pharmacy Tech is still underutilized in retail pharmacies across the U.S. With the increasing volume of vaccines in demand year-round coupled with operational hurdles faced by many retail pharmacies, now is the time to evaluate their future role given these emerging opportunities.
Current Role of the Pharmacy Tech
Techs are the backbone of the retail pharmacy, ensuring customers are taken care of while processing transactions, including vaccines. They play many roles, from administrative duties to clinical support as shown below from KS&R’s recent national survey of Pharmacists and Techs. However, the role of the Tech is underutilized in many areas in the pharmacy from conversations at the counter to administration of vaccines.
COVID-19 and the Expanding Role of the Pharmacy Tech
Federal legislation, under the PREP Act, allowed Techs to administer COVID-19 vaccines in all states, and according to allowances and guidelines from their respective State Board of Pharmacy. KS&R’s recent national survey found that slightly more than half (56%) of represented pharmacies have granted Techs the authority to administer COVID-19 vaccines, as indicated by the research. Additional sources reveal that the majority (27 states) do not allow Techs to administer non-COVID-19 vaccines at all!
“We would not have been able to accommodate the number of vaccinations that we did without the help of tech immunizers. We would have had to turn away hundreds of walk-ins or require appointments which would have pushed their vaccines later into the season.” – Retail Pharmacist
“It has been extremely helpful having a technician that can help immunize while we work on the day-to-day operations as well.” – Retail Pharmacist
The changing landscape of pharmacy priorities, from Rx processing to COVID testing and immunizations, is driving the need to increase the focus on the Tech. With Pharmacists’ attention shifting from dispensing to providing convenient clinical care, there is an opportunity to carve out a new future for the Tech. It’s an investment of both time and money, as Techs require training and certification for the vaccines they are allowed to administer, as determined by their respective State Board of Pharmacy. However, it is money well spent for those who are using Techs to immunize, as they are clearly experiencing the benefits.
Those who don’t allow Techs to vaccinate or to have a more expansive role may find the staffing strain more difficult without the flexibility of a trained Tech to fill in where Pharmacists can’t find the time. Operational hurdles in the form of staffing and workload are challenges that many retail pharmacies are facing – making it tough to fully utilize Techs more broadly. There are many pharmacies that are being forced to cut Pharmacy hours to compensate for short staff. And it’s a challenge to cover the time and expense of training new Techs if they also do not share a mutual a long-term commitment to the Pharmacy.
“Because of a serious nationwide shortage of technicians, my workload has doubled with no monetary increase.” – Pharmacy Tech
“I believe yearly vaccination, just like flu vaccines, will be available in the near future and I also have seen firsthand that pharmacies can’t restaff after the pandemic because of the increased workload.” – Pharmacy Tech
The Future of the Pharmacy Tech
Techs handle much of the administrative and processing tasks behind the counter and their role is ripe for expansion – and would be welcome by many in the pharmacy setting going forward. The opportunities stem from the increasing demand for pharmacy services and the need to free up Pharmacists’ time to do more with their customers. KS&R’s recent survey Pharmacists and Techs suggest these areas can include increasing certification for administering vaccines (beyond COVID-19), becoming more independent in vaccine administration, and increasing the Tech’s role in filling prescriptions.
“I hope the role of the tech is increased. They are very important and valuable to pharmacy.” – Retail Pharmacist
The role of the Pharmacy Tech has evolved, and my hope is that it will continue to do so. The Tech has proven their value during the pandemic, and now is prime to identify ways to utilize their potential. For some, being a Tech is a starting point for a career in Pharmacy or to otherwise serve in the healthcare industry. Some Pharmacies have found their Techs to be a valuable part of the Pharmacy. For others it may still be an intangible concept without having a shared vision of how the Retail Pharmacy could, or should, function in the future.
“I see the roles of upcoming technicians changing where it will be mandatory for all technicians entering the field to be certified immunizers. I also see my role as a pharmacy technician changing in the sense that communication will become a lot more virtual (i.e., calls, chats) to communicate messages to patients. I also believe that the pharmacy will become the primary place for inoculations. We are already seeing it where doctors are sending more and more patients with prescriptions for [various vaccines] rather than doing it in their office.” – Pharmacy Tech