In the wild world of pharmaceuticals, a pharmacy technician plays a vital role in any setting. The two most common environments are inpatient and outpatient, more commonly known as hospital and retail respectively.
Before we move further, it’s important to understand that a pharmacy technician is always supervised by the pharmacist he works with. However, to begin with, let’s understand the job duties of pharmacy technician in general, regardless of the setting he or she will work in.
What does a pharmacy technician do?
The job duties of certified pharmacy tech usually include the following:
- Preparation of medications for patients
- Receiving and verifying the prescriptions
- Pricing and filling of prescriptions
- Obtaining pharmacist’s approval
- Completing patient paperwork related to the filling of prescription
- Assisting with insurance claims processing (usually a pharmacist will handle this, but assistant’s help will be needed – the entire process is done online)
- Stocking and pricing of medications in inventory
- Ensuring availability of drugs by delivering them to patients or facilities
- Maintaining pharmacy’s (and its patients’ employees’) safety by adhering to infection-control procedures, policies and regulations
What pharmacy technician is prohibited to do by law is:
- Perform the final check of the prescriptions
- Perform counselling with the patients – you can not give them any advice related to drugs or health-related issue. This has to be done by the pharmacist.
Other than that, a pharmacy technician pretty much does everything in a pharmacy.
Pharmacy technicians can hold the above duties in various kinds of facilities, usually hospitals / clinics or retail pharmacies. Except that they can also work in home healthcare pharmacies and nursing homes. The first two are more common, so we decided to dig a bit deeper into what you can expect from working in each of them. They have some really important differences.
Hospital Pharmacy Technician
As a hospital technician, duties include but are not limited to:
- Compounding intravenous (IV) solutions
- Delivering medications to and from satellite pharmacies
- Restocking automated medication dispensing systems
- Mixing and dispensing orally-administered medications
- Unit-dosing tablets from a bulk bottle
Working in a hospital is radically different than working in a retail pharmacy setting. In most cases, a large portion of the medications provided are solutions to be administered intravenously. In order to prepare these solutions, the technician must have a firm grasp on aseptic technique. IV medications are always compounded in a laminar flow hood, in which air is passed through a HEPA filter to create a sterile environment to significantly lessen the chance of contamination.
Many larger hospitals have what are called, “satellite pharmacies.” In most cases, they are a smaller version of the central pharmacy and produce medications for specific indications. For example, oncology satellites are responsible for supplying chemotherapy medications to cancer treatment centers within the facility.
In order to save money, many hospitals will order tablets or capsules in bulk bottles. When a patient is admitted, the nurses will be given access to a 24-hour supply of medication. Since this is the case, tablets need to be individually packaged. A technician is usually responsible for unit-dosing and labeling these medications. Once they are checked by a pharmacist, they will be delivered either to a patient-specific bin or to an automated dispensing system that the nurses may access at the time of administration.
Technicians in hospitals are usually responsible for handling more paperwork compared to their retail colleagues. This can include reading charts and maintaining patients’ profiles (which have to be updated on a regular basis with each medication supply). Work schedule in hospitals involves night shifts more often compared to retail drug stores, but these are also compensated accordingly.
Job duties will vary depending on the size and type of hospital.
Retail Pharmacy Technician
As a retail technician, duties include but are not limited to:
- Intake of written and electronic prescriptions
- Billing insurance
- Compounding various topical creams/ointments, as well as oral liquids
- Accurately counting and dispensing medications
- Assisting customers with the purchase of their medications
In a retail pharmacy setting, customer service is paramount. Considering that over 3/4 of pharmacy technicians work in retail, interpersonal skills are a must. In a hospital that is also required, though. The technician is the first person a patient will speak with as they drop off their prescription. Sometimes prescriptions are collected by phone directly from the physician’s office or through special applications and email. The billing information is also taken at this point in the process. Once the information written on the prescription is entered into the computer, the technician will pull the medication from the shelf and dispense it. In most cases they will pull tablets or capsules, but sometimes the patient will need injectable medications, topical creams or oral liquids. Depending on state law and local Board of Pharmacy regulations, techs can weigh, retrieve, and sometimes, even mix the medications (even if this is allowed in a state where you practice, a pharmacist may still want to supervise the process, at least while you gain more experience). You will receive direct instructions at your facility about what you’re allowed to do and what to avoid.
After the medication is properly dispensed and labeled, it will need to be verified by a pharmacist to ensure the patient is getting the correct item (this is also true for hospital pharmacies – registered pharmacist always checks the prescription before delivery to patient). Once that has happened, the technician will assist the customer with their purchase.
Occasionally in a retail setting, a pharmacy assistant will be utilized. Since there is no schooling required to become an assistant, their scope of practice is much narrower than that of a technician. Most of the time they will be responsible for tasks involving paperwork, as well as helping with purchases and putting away the orders of additional medication and supplies.
On of the great advantages of this career is ability to choose virtually any schedule you like – evenings, nights, weekends, or traditional 9 to 5. A lot of technicians work part-time and combine this career with other employment, or (what happens more often), continuing education to transform to pharmacist or any other healthcare career.
Even though the job may seem simple at a first glance, it’s quiet challenging. Pharmacy technicians need to pay great attention to details since patient’s health and life are at stake.
In the grand scheme of things, there are many different pharmacy settings available to a technician. The individual’s skill set will determine which environment will be the best fit. If someone’s strong suit is IV admixture, then a hospital or home infusion pharmacy might be best. If a person has experience with customer service, then a retail or clinic pharmacy might be an excellent option. Build your skills and market them to pharmacies that can utilize you to your full potential!