Two pharmacy tech standing pharmacy giving thumbs up.

3 Ways Pharmacy Technicians Are Vital for Patient Care

Without the help of pharmacy technicians, patient care would be compromised and the pharmacy profession would crumble. This may sound like a bold statement, but the vital importance of pharmacy technicians can't be understated. Read on to find out why pharmacy techs are needed more than ever.

1. Pharmacy Techs Save Lives With Their Compounding Expertise

Nowadays, pharmacy technicians are mainly the ones who compound medications for patients, especially IV medications. They have the dexterity and adaptability in this working environment. They are mostly on their feet while they are working in the IV room. Due to the critical nature of the drugs, they must be made in a sterile environment and per protocol for certain drugs.

For example, with the COVID-19 pandemic, technicians prepare a novel COVID-19 medication, named Remdesivir, and it has short stability; hence, they have to communicate with both the nurse and pharmacist before making it. Some technicians work to make specialized hazardous medications, such as chemotherapy agents. These medications can be toxic if accidentally spilled on the preparer or incorrectly made, as it could harm or delay recovery. Many precautions are taken to avoid accidents from occurring in this arena. In addition, these medications tend to be high cost, upwards of thousands of dollars per vial, which require extra attention to avoid waste. Oftentimes, most patients know the nurses that administer the medications or the doctor that they see but may not think about other critical staff members who are behind the scenes. Hence, it is important to know that we have pharmacy technicians to thank and recognize for making it possible to get medications to patients.

2. Pharmacy Techs Prevent Medication Errors by Retrieving Appropriate Medication History

One of the advanced pharmacy tech roles is a medication history pharmacy technician in a hospital setting. When patients arrive at a hospital, most patients are either incoherent or unprepared to provide their full medical and medication history to the healthcare team. In addition, there are circumstances where doctors and nurses don't have time to take a full, complete medication history. This could lead to medication errors, delays in care, or adverse health outcomes from inappropriate treatment due to lack of information.

A medication history pharmacy technician is a dedicated healthcare team member who takes the necessary time to talk with the patient and their family members to retrieve an accurate medication history. Patients may be upset with a pharmacy technician if they have to repeat themselves if they have already talked to a nurse or a doctor. However, for one's safety, it is worth the effort – especially if the technician deems the information to be incomplete. Sometimes, a call to the patient's home pharmacy may be needed to retrieve the information, as the patient may not recall the actual dose or name of the medication, or it may have been entered incorrectly.

By getting the medication history right at admission, it will help with the discharge process of going home as well, where doctors can either safely resume home medications or change them depending on the patient’s therapy. When healthcare records are not shared between the health system institutions, doctor's office, and pharmacy, it is paramount to get a complete medication history to provide effective care. Having a medication history technician in the Emergency Department (ED) is a crucial decision to prevent medication errors and improve patient safety.

3. Pharmacy Techs Ensure Medications Are Available Despite Supply Chain Disruptions

Another advanced pharmacy tech role is the inventory specialist, who manages the purchasing of the medications. Due to natural disasters and other unforeseen circumstances, medication supply may be limited, which impacts patient care and the ways doctors treat patients.

For example, with Hurricane Maria, 80 manufacturing industries were located in Puerto Rico, which disrupted chain supply to hospitals in the US. In 2018, during the flu season, basic IV fluid such as sodium chloride was in short supply. In these situations, the inventory specialists collaborate with pharmacy leadership and the healthcare team to alleviate the stress on patient care. When a commercial product becomes unavailable, it falls back on pharmacy technicians to compound these items in bulk, which creates extra stress as it is an additional workload to their already hectic workflow. The inventory specialist serves as an important gatekeeper for inventory management and acts as a leader in the drug supply chain to ensure patients get their medications when they are needed.

Being a pharmacy technician is a very stimulating and challenging, yet rewarding role. Overall, pharmacy technicians are the lifelines to the industry of the pharmacy, as they help pharmacists to practice at the top of their profession. Without pharmacy technicians, patients would suffer by not having their treatment when they need it. The bottom line is that pharmacy technicians play a vital role in delivering effective care while maintaining patient safety. Let's recognize them each day and not just on #RxTechDay!

Phuoc Anne Nguyen, PharmD, MS, BCPS
Pharmacy technician holding clipboard in pharmacy.

Can a Pharmacy Technician Dispense Medications?

Yes. Pharmacy technicians are trained to prepare, package, mix, and distribute medications, among other duties. Dispensing a drug, according to the North Carolina Public Health department, means to prepare and package a prescribed medication in a container and label the container with information that is required by state or federal law. Dispensing also includes the process of filling or refilling drug containers with prescribed medications for use by patients.

How Pharm Techs Dispense Medications

The process of dispensing medications to a patient is a detailed one that involves checks and double-checks by the pharmacist and the pharmacy technician. The first step is to enter the prescription information into the computer system (tech) including the patient name, prescribing doctor's information, medication, dose, and instructions to the patient as well as the number of medications. Most pharmacy management systems will automatically check the new medication order against any previous orders to identify contraindications or adverse drug-to-drug interactions. This information is then verified by a pharmacist, including the appropriateness of the medication for the patient.

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The technician or the pharmacy management system creates a label for the order and secures it to the container. The pharmacy technician then fills the container with the prescribed quantity of the medication and the pharmacist verifies the medication in the container. Medication information sheets are also printed for each dispensed medication.

What About Medication Counseling?

When the patient presents to purchase the medication, a pharmacy technician may conduct the sale of the medication, although that is not required in most states. If the medication is new to the patient, or even if it's a refill, the pharmacist will provide counseling to patients regarding the specific medication. Pharmacy technicians are not trained nor certified to provide medication counseling or information that is not pre-printed by the pharmacy management system.

Phuoc Anne Nguyen, PharmD, MS, BCPS