Admittedly, I had much to learn about the critical role the more than 400,000 techs play in America’s pharmacies. However, it took only a few conversations with dedicated and passionate techs, as well as hearing pharmacists speak about experienced techs as the “heart” of the pharmacy, for me to understand their importance. This importance has only grown in the intervening decade.
Pharmacies that hire and recognize PTCB Certified Pharmacy Technicians (CPhTs) are creating a win-win-win scenario for techs, their employers, and, of course, the patients they serve. Employers who invest in their team and recognize their accomplishments, such as earning the recently available medication history certificate from the PTCB, are rewarded with a motivated and skilled tech. Most importantly, we know that CPhTs are more committed to their employers and the profession.
With pharmacy practice evolving toward more direct patient care opportunities, the rate of change for tech roles is speeding up. Many pharmacies are working to align their policies and practice with the United States Pharmacopeia’s General Chapter <800>. The PTCB is working on the imminent launch of a hazardous drug management certificate program. Pharmacists working with techs who earn this new certificate can have confidence that these team members will be well informed regarding the new standards.
Billing and reimbursement, controlled substance diversion prevention, hazardous drug management, medication history, and technician product verification are the first 5 of many planned assessment-based certificate programs. The PTCB recognizes the diverse and expanding roles that techs are assuming, with the ultimate goal of freeing up pharmacists’ time for clinical activities and, ultimately, delivering much-needed, quality patient services efficiently. A PTCB CPhT who earns at least 4 of these certificates will be designated an advanced CPhT.
Keeping in mind that about 90% of the US population lives within 5 miles of a pharmacy, we are just now scratching the surface of what pharmacists and techs can do for patients, especially when it comes to chronic disease management and persistent health problems. In those situations, a patient might visit a pharmacy 35 times a year compared with just a handful of physician visits. Each of those pharmacy visits is another chance to deliver better outcomes at a lower cost.
Another important consideration is the pharmacist’s well-being as the patient care team leader. The profession is working hard to address this important issue, and there is widespread recognition that employing, privileging, and recognizing CPhTs is critical. I have had the same conversation with dozens of pharmacists. Knowing that a tech is committed to patients and to the team—and has the appropriate training and credentials—increases trust and makes the entire team better. The workload is intense and large, and thousands of techs are likely waiting for the opportunity to take on additional responsibility along with the appropriate recognition and potential compensation that come with it.
CPhTs are now required to complete a PTCB Recognized Education/Training Program or 500 hours of work experience before sitting for the pharmacy technician certification exam. This major change in requirements is based on data from more than 40,000 practicing techs, as well as extensive conversations across the profession. It is important to recognize that PTCB’s Certification Council did not make these changes to push techs to do more. The changes are consistent with current practice.
PTCB CPhTs are leading the way toward major changes in tech roles. Our mission is to recognize them for the knowledge they have earned through experience and hard work, while ensuring that the standard for measuring that knowledge is high enough to advance patient safety.
William Schimmel is the CEO and executive director of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board in Washington, D.C.