I have been writing articles on why and how to become a pharmacy technician, but some recent feedback has made me realize I left out the obvious. What is it that pharmacy technicians do in a pharmacy? Most people figure they help the pharmacist enter prescriptions and count pills. This is true for an outpatient pharmacy, also called a retail pharmacy, but there are many roles for pharmacy technicians in healthcare. The rest of this article will list different types of pharmacy settings and the roles that pharmacy technicians have in these settings.
I have worked retail, and I prefer other settings; however, it is where a large percentage of pharmacy technician jobs are found. What a pharmacy technician can do is determined by the state they work via state laws and rules. In general, technicians cannot provide clinical information to patients or be the final check for prescriptions. In some states, technicians are allowed to provide information on over-the-counter (OTC) medication (ie, medications that do not require a prescription, such as, acetaminophen and ibuprofen). Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Collecting patient information (insurance and personal information as needed) • Entering and processing prescriptions in the computer system • Filling and selling prescriptions • Requesting refills from doctor offices for patients • Compounding medications that are not commercially available • Ordering medications • Restocking shelves • Answering the phone • Working with insurance companies on approving payment for certain medications • Maintaining the cash register and conducting accounting functions
There are many different roles for pharmacy technicians in a hospital pharmacy. I know this type of pharmacy best since this is where most of my work has been. The most common are technicians who work in the central pharmacy. In addition we have decentralized techs, sterile compounding techs, billing techs, OR techs, narcotic techs, database techs, automation techs, team lead techs, and buyer techs. These technicians as a whole perform the following tasks, but not limited to:
• Filling new orders, this includes a variety of medications from oral medications to specially prepared sterile compound medications (including chemotherapy meds) • Answering the phone • Tubing medications (if the pharmacy has a pneumatic tube station) • Preparing medications for delivery • Delivering medications • Assisting floor pharmacists with medication histories • Assisting floor pharmacists with IV drip checks • Handling missing dose calls • Billing medications where nurse charting does not bill • Maintaining the pharmacy database • Restocking operating rooms and anesthesia trays with appropriate medication • Dispensing and tracking all controlled substances throughout the hospital • Maintaining automation equipment [automated dispensing cabinets that store medication on nursing units, automatic fill systems (typically called Robot-Rx)] • Purchasing of all medication and supplies needed in the pharmacy • Leading and managing the technician workforce, including upkeep of schedules
Long-Term Care Pharmacy:
I have worked at a couple of long-term care pharmacies, and I think it is a great place to be a technician. They typically employee a lot of techs because the work load lends itself to a lot of technician tasks. These pharmacies provide the medication needs for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and psychiatric facilities. The typical pharmacy is located in a warehouse. It does not have an open pharmacy for people to come to; they receive orders by fax and deliver all medications via couriers or drivers to facilities. The oral medication is filled in blister packs (cards of 30 tabs that are used to provide a 1 month supply of medication), or some other mechanism that provide the facility with an extended amount of medication doses that can be safely and cleanly kept until doses are due. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Filling new and refill orders (different from hospital because of the number of doses provided) • Processing new order and refills coming through the fax machine • Order entry of prescriptions and printing of labels for fill techs • Sterile compounding of medications (although there aren’t as many sterile compounded medications as a hospital, there are still enough that most long-term care pharmacies have a few techs specialize in sterile compounding • Billing medications to homes • Controlled substance dispensing and documentation • Ordering medications and supplies • Restocking medications that are returned that are still suitable for reuse.
Home Infusion Pharmacy:
These pharmacies primarily care for patients that require some form of IV or other non oral medication, and want to receive the therapy at home (hence the name home-infusion). I have also worked in a home-infusion pharmacy. As a tech I had a lot of experience in sterile compounding, and found my self in any position that needed a IV room tech. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Compounding sterile preparations in the clean room • Preparing supplies associated with sterile medication administration for delivery • Billing medications delivered to patients home • Coordinating deliveries of medications with patients • Entering orders in the pharmacy order entry system
No, I have not worked in a nuclear pharmacy (I am sure you were staring to think I got around quite a bit, but I have been in pharmacy for about 17 years). I have some friends who work in a nuclear pharmacy. The hours are interesting; they usually come in at about 3 AM and work until about noon. These types of pharmacies make radioactive compounds and they need to be made in a way that when they are delivered to the hospital or clinic administering them, that the dose has degraded to a specific amount. Without going into too much detail, these medications have short half-lives. So they have to time the compounding of the product with the time it takes to deliver the medication and the time the patient is to receive the dose. The job pays well, but as you can imagine, there are not a ton of these positions available. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Preparing radioactive products • Cleaning and preparing sterile compounding areas • Entering orders into the pharmacy system • Coordinating dose due times with deliveries and preparation • Billing products to hospital or clinic
Health Plans/HMO Pharmacy Group:
I saved this one for last because it is a lot different. Most healthcare plans have a pharmacy department. They manage the pharmacy benefit of the health plan. I have worked with my companies health plan and have spent some time with the pharmacy department. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:
• Answering phone calls and providing support for patients on the pharmacy benefit • Reviewing prior authorization requests • Providing support to physicians and drug companies for information requests • Supporting the pharmacists in the department with database and projects as needed
As you can see, pharmacy technician roles can be very diverse. The best advice I can give you is to figure out what setting you would most like to work in and obtain some experiential hours in that setting. I have found that the type of pharmacy you train in is typically the type of pharmacy you end up working in.
Rob Hoopi is a hospital pharmacy manager at a large community hospital. He was a pharmacy technician for over eight years prior to going to pharmacy school. He hopes to share what he has learned as a technician, and now as a pharmacy manager who manages technicians, with you. Come visit his site to learn more at Dutch Pharmacys.