Technicians are beginning to take on some of the technical aspects of pharmacy practice. This means that better educated, more qualified technicians will be needed in the future.
In a changing healthcare environment, the role of the pharmacist has evolved from primarily dispensing to monitoring and managing drug therapy in collaboration with physicians and other providers. As a result, pharmacy technicians are beginning to take on some of the technical aspects of pharmacy practice. This means that better educated, more qualified technicians will be needed in the future.
Technicians help licensed pharmacists dispense medication to patients. They receive the prescription, enter it into the processing system, prepare and label the medication and - after the pharmacist signs off on it - ring up the sale.
Some technicians with special training mix intravenous medication. "We also handle insurance and patient's financial questions. This is a very challenging part of the job," says Randy Cleem, a certified pharmacy technician at the Park Nicollet Clinic - St. Louis Park (www.parknicollet.com).
Outside of Minnesota, tech-nicians are taking on additional responsibilities. In some hospital pharmacies, one technician now checks prescriptions filled by another - a function known as "tech-check-tech."
In other settings, technicians educate patients on the use of pillboxes and screen patients for pharmacist-run medication clinics. And at one large university medical center technicians help with data analysis.
Six states now require pharmacy technicians to pass a national certification exam. In Minnesota, however, there are currently no minimum educational requirements for pharmacy technicians, who can be as young as 16.
But beginning in 2010, the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy will require technicians to be at least 18 years old. In addition, they will need to complete 15 hours of continuing education every year.
Cleem notes that many employers already offer training courses to help technicians prepare for the national certification exam. He believes that within a decade, a two-year degree - in addition to certification - will be required for entry-level jobs.
Nancy Giguere is a freelance writer from St. Paul who has written about healthcare since 1995.