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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Beyond the Counter: Exploring the Roles of the Modern Pharmacy Technician

November 28, 2023

Modern Pharmacy TechnicianIt takes a talented team of healthcare professionals to keep patients safe and healthy. Doctors, nurses and medical assistants are important, of course, but they also receive critical support from pharmacy professionals. A key part of this team? Pharmacy technicians, who interact closely with both pharmacists and patients to ensure that medications are properly managed and safely dispensed. Keep reading to learn why these professionals are so important and what is involved in modern pharmacy technician training.

Why Are Pharmacy Technicians So Important?

Every time you get a prescription filled, you rely on pharmacy technicians to keep you safe while also providing prompt and courteous service. These hardworking professionals play a vital role in the healthcare industry: they provide prompt, yet highly controlled access to the myriad of pharmaceuticals and equipment required to achieve positive health outcomes. They work closely with pharmacists to ensure that this corner of the healthcare industry remains as safe and reliable as possible.

What Are the Main Responsibilities of a Pharmacy Technician?

When you visit a pharmacy, you expect that you will receive necessary prescriptions quickly — and that everything will be accurate and, therefore, safe. Pharmacists set the stage, but pharmacy operations would not be nearly as efficient without the assistance of highly trained technicians, who carry out a variety of tasks to expedite services and support other pharmacy team members. Key responsibilities include:

Manage Medications

Today’s patients are often prescribed numerous medications, which they may take alongside over-the-counter drugs. Detail-oriented medication management increases the likelihood that medications are taken properly and that, as a result, they actually provide the desired health outcomes. As the National Healthcareer Association[1] points out, technicians play a crucial role in verifying patient adherence to medication therapy management (MTM) programs and can also create updated patient charts and medication lists.

Customer Management

Pharmacies are unique in that they provide critical healthcare services while also functioning as retail locations in which customers expect to receive prompt and courteous service. While pharmacy-based customer service involves closely integrated teams of employees, pharmacy technicians play a major role in keeping customers satisfied. They are often tasked with discussing medication needs over the phone or answering emails. For this reason, technicians are frequently referred to as the face of the pharmacy.

Medicine Dispersing and Bottle Labeling

Pharmacy technicians typically are responsible for the physical aspects of dispensing medications. This involves preparing and packaging the pharmaceuticals, plus ensuring that the labels are always accurate and easy to read. Procedures for expired and returned medications must also be closely followed.

Inventory Management and Stock Management

Pharmacy technicians oversee a vast array of medications, equipment and other medical essentials that must be properly organized to ensure prompt retrieval and accurate dispensing. For this reason, inventory management is a critical part of the job. Pharmacy Times[2] refers to pharmacy technicians as “overlooked resource[s]” for facilitating strong inventory management.

There are many considerations to take into account, such as:

  • Limiting the potential for key medications or equipment to become out of stock.
  • Preventing inventory expiration and the associated expenses or loss of time.
  • Reducing the cost of wholesaler ordering or maintaining optimal contract pricing with drug companies.
  • Using and maintaining perpetual inventory systems or, when relevant, automatic dispensing systems.

A variety of inventory strategies and concepts must be mastered, such as ABC analysis (determining an item’s value based on its importance) and the 80/20 rule (the majority of pharmacy costs are dedicated to a small subset of inventory).

New Expanded Roles and Other Specializations

The role of pharmacy technician is quickly evolving and, while the responsibilities outlined above will remain vital in years to come, there are many emerging exciting niches worth pursuing. These may call for specialized pharmacy technician training or experience — but they could also deliver increases in pay or additional opportunities for advancement.

Medication Therapy Management (MTM)

The previously mentioned concept of medication therapy management (MTM) is an increasingly popular strategy that encourages patients to take a greater role in their own care, typically by working closely with pharmacists and technicians to better understand which medications are required and how they can be taken in a way to improve overarching health outcomes.

The American Pharmacy Association (APhA)[3] defines MTM as a “distinct service or group of services that optimize therapeutic outcomes for individual patients,” adding, that these are “independent of, but can occur in conjunction with, the provision of a medication product.” Goals include avoiding adverse reactions from interacting medications and ensuring that only necessary medications are taken — and at the right dosage.

Vaccine Preparation

Increasingly, pharmacy technicians are permitted (or, in many cases, strongly encouraged) to prepare and even administer vaccines. In response to the COVID pandemic, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)[4] provided authorization for pharmacy technicians to handle immunization under a specific set of circumstances. Many facilities have since seen significant benefits from delegating this task and are looking to make this a permanent part of working as a pharmacy technician.

Prior to administering immunizations, pharmacy technicians must obtain extensive training in complex concepts such as vaccine storage, cold chain maintenance and documentation. Injection techniques must also be understood, with rigorous assessments needed to ensure pharmacy technicians can safely provide intramuscular or subcutaneous injections.

How Pharmacy Technicians Help Keep Up Safety Measures

Pharmacy technicians bring many vital forms of protection to the patients and facilities they serve. Their detail-oriented tasks ensure the physical safety of patients while their billing, insurance and even inventory practices can prove financially beneficial from both the patient and employer’s perspective. Additionally, pharmacy technicians must safeguard sensitive information, ranging from health data to financial details.

Knowing Legal and Ethical Scenarios

No two days on the job look exactly alike for today’s vastly talented pharmacy technicians, so training initiatives must cover a variety of potential scenarios and situations. Potential legal and ethical concerns, in particular, must be closely examined so that pharmacy technicians understand compliance concerns and ethical implications. When in doubt, the Pharmacy Technician Code of Ethics[5] provides a strong blueprint.

Patient Confidentiality

Pharmacy technicians, like all medical professionals, must make every effort to protect sensitive patient data. Specifically, the aforementioned Code of Ethics for Pharmacy Technicians states, “A pharmacy technician respects the confidentiality of a patient’s records and discloses pertinent information only with proper authorization.”

Confidentiality standards are largely dictated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as a significant subset of the records contained in the pharmacy environment quality as protected health information (PHI).

As The HIPAA Journal[6] explains, pharmacies must comply with HIPAA’s administrative standards when they qualify as covered entities. The HIPAA Privacy Rule can be difficult to apply in the pharmacy, given the often retail-oriented nature of this environment. As such, all pharmacy employees — including technicians — must be thoroughly trained on the specific contexts in which health disclosures are permitted.

State and Federal Pharmacy Regulations

The modern pharmacy is governed by a wide array of other pharmacy laws and regulations, including both federal mandates and state-based concerns. Every certified pharmacy technician must be thoroughly familiar with these regulations — and since the regulatory landscape is always changing, there is also a strong need to keep up to date with new or updated policies.

To begin, strict legislation at the state level dictates who is eligible to become certified or work as a pharmacy technician. Standards can vary dramatically between states, with some involving not only high-level training, but also, background checks or other stringent requirements.

A variety of other laws impact elements of pharmacy practice, both from the perspective of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act[7], for example, deserves recognition because it granted authority to the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration for overseeing the safety of drugs and medical equipment. Other legislation dictates the role of pharmacy services in reimbursements for dispensing prescriptions, particularly for those enrolled in Medicaid.

Development and Education for Pharmacy Techs

As we’ve discussed, requirements for becoming a pharmacy tech differ somewhat between states, although it’s increasingly common to mandate  training at a trusted pharmacy technician school. The ideal program would provide well-rounded training that covers many of the legal and ethical concerns highlighted above, along with a variety of technical skills and core competencies such as strong empathy and communication.  At SJVC, Pharmacy Technology students qualify to take the National Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE) upon successful completion of practice exams administered during their course of study and with the approval of the Pharmacy Liaison.

Employer requirements may prove even more stringent, particularly for specialty areas that call for niche experience or expertise. Hands-on training provides critical preparation for the everyday challenges encountered in modern pharmacies.

San Joaquin Valley College prepares students to take appropriate certification and licensure exams related to their individual majors. The College does not guarantee students will successfully pass these exams or be certified or licensed as a result of completing the program.

SJVC Pharmacy Technology Program

If you want to work closely with patients without being employed in a clinical capacity, pharmacy tech could be your dream career. You could gain a strong start by enrolling in San Joaquin Valley College’s Pharmacy Technology certificate  program.

Would you like to enter the field in the near future? You can secure your Certificate of Completion in Pharmacy Technology in as few as nine months. Reach out today to learn about this exciting opportunity.


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