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The Changing Role of Pharmacy Technicians

There’s an old saying that mentions “The only thing that doesn’t change is change.” That seems to be the case across the board for nurses and for pharmacy technicians. The health care industry is always evolving and the impact seems to be wide spread.

On medscape.com, Rod Franklin posted his interview Douglas Scheckelhoff, MS, RPh, FASHP, and ASHP’s vice president of professional development. Scheckelhoff had some interesting insights pertaining to the future roles of pharmacy technicians. As Franklin introduced his guest, he explained, “The role of technicians who assist licensed pharmacists in hospitals is evolving. Part of this is because of the perceived need for licensed pharmacists to spend less time on perfunctory duties and more time in direct patient care.”

“Historically, pharmacists have been very involved with drug distribution activities, but over the last 10 to 15 years, there has been a shift from drug distribution to greater pharmacist involvement in patient care types of activities. We believe that shift needs to continue, and pharmacists should be spending the majority of their time in direct patient care activities. Pharmacists should, however, still have oversight responsibility over drug distribution” said Scheckelhoff.

“We also see a growing number of new activities that are not as traditional [for technicians]. Those may include things like collecting medication lists from patients as part of a medication reconciliation process, or being more involved in [information technology] and automated systems related to medication preparation and dispensing to ensure that the automation is functioning properly. Technicians are also, in some cases, performing chart reviews to identify allergies that may not be well recorded in the electronic health record. Others are collecting laboratory data that can then be used by the pharmacist and followed-up when there are lab values that are outside of the normal range.”

Schecklehoff also adds that pharmacy technicians are being able to expand their duties to benefit the pharmacist. “Often technicians can very effectively extend the reach of what the pharmacist can do by helping with the collection of data or information that the pharmacist can then utilize in interacting with the patient or healthcare providers in making sure that the patient is getting the best possible care.”

With the expanding duties of pharmacy technicians, the widespread advertising of pharmaceuticals and the aging population, it seems like now is the perfect time to be a pharmacy technician student in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Pharmacy Technicians Help With Drug Shortages

A serious problem that many health care institutions are facing has to do with drug shortages. Pharmacy Technician students may be the answer to help solve this problem in the future.

On PRNewswire.com, this story was reported and addresses the concerns of the medical industry. “Manufacturing issues, including shortages in raw materials and packaging supplies, product discontinuation, limited manufacturing capacity, and pharmaceutical industry consolidation, have led to a significant increase in drug shortages over the last five years. To avoid compromising patient care associated with shortages, hospital and health-system pharmacies have developed proactive strategies to streamline inventory maintenance and utilize key staff, including CPhTs, in pharmacy operations.”

“Pharmacy technicians are instrumental in managing inventory and communicating department needs to supervisors,” said Erin Fox, PharmD, Manager, Drug Information Services, University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics. “By working cooperatively within the pharmacy team, they allow the department to better optimize daily workflow output and reprioritize medication distribution activities as patients’ needs change.”

I know that the shortage of flu vaccines has been a problem the past few years, but I am surprised that this issue hasn’t been resolved yet and that the difficulty of getting other medications is on the rise. There are many viable ways to reduce this problem. “Health-system pharmacies may better manage drug shortages by effectively utilizing available technology. Automation has evolved to expand distribution system capabilities and improve safety and efficiency in distribution. Automation pharmacy technicians, responsible for the management of automated dispensing devices such as robots or automated dispensing cabinets, assist with implementation, maintenance, and optimization of these technologies and may be called upon to assist with drug shortage responsibilities. This includes assisting with product distribution, database modification, and the redistribution of product to areas of higher need.”

It’s no secret that the need for nurses is on the rise as a large portion of our society ages, and that means that Pharmacy Technicians in the San Francisco Bay Area are also going to be in high demand. The need for medical care and the need for medications in going to increase in the near future. Although budget cuts and the declining economy doesn’t seem to be gaining momentum any time soon, the health care industry is one of the few areas of employment that is getting stronger.

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Pharmacy Techs Will Be Busier As Med Use Increases

I went on a trip this past weekend with a group of my friends and at breakfast time our table looked like a pharmacy. At the end of the meal we all took out our baggies and pill boxes and compared our collections: pain, blood pressure and cholesterol medications were just a few of the pills that we gladly popped to ease our ailing bodies. (Did I mention we ranged from 36 – 50 years old?)

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting blog on this issue written by Anna Wilde Mathews. Mathews states that during the recession the demand for drugs decreased and now this trend is reversing. It seems to me that in a recession stress would cause more ailments therefore increasing the demand for prescription drugs, which means that Pharmacy Tech students are choosing the right career path.

Mathews writes that, “There’s new evidence that the drop in patient demand for medications during the recession is starting to reverse.

“The annual drug trend report from Medco Health Solutions finds that last year’s increase in spending on pharmaceuticals was driven largely by increased use of medicines — a shift from the last few years. (Drug makers did continue to sharply raise the prices of their brand-name products last year, but the impact on overall spending was blunted by the increasing use of generics.)”

I would assume some of the increase in prescription drugs would be the immense amount of money pharmaceutical companies are spending on advertising. It’s rare to turn on the TV and not see an ad for birth control, insulin, allergy or cholesterol medications. I’ve also noticed several pages of my magazines are occupied by small print and medical disclaimers.

Mathews relates some interesting statistics showing the increase in demand for medications. “Spending on drugs rose 3.7% last year, the same as in 2009. Most of that increase was from growing use of medicines, particularly in diabetes and also some other chronic conditions. The 2.1% increase in drug use was the biggest jump since 2005; the tough economy of the last few years may have limited the use of prescriptions even by people with insurance coverage, who often still have significant out-of-pocket expenses on medications.

“There was 1.6% overall increase in costs (measured as the cost of one day of therapy). While the use of generics helped keep that figure low, the price of brand-name drugs rose 9.4% — a new record high, Medco said, with even higher prices expected in 2011. Medco officials pegged that trend to drug makers’ efforts to make up for revenue lost as major products go generic, as well as the passed-through cost of the health-care overall law.”

It seems like the trend for medication use is growing, which means that the need for Pharmacy Technicians in the San Francisco Bay Area will also be increasing.

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The Changing Landscape of Employment for Pharmacy Technicians

In a world dependent on the internet and humongous superstores, mom and pop businesses that occupied simple downtown stores are on the verge of extinction. Independent pharmacies are being forced out of business and are searching for ways to survive.

Pharmacy technician students may be focused on the next big test, but considering where to work in the future is an equally important task. The age and backgrounds of pharmacy technician students are greatly diverse, so some may not even realize how much pharmacies have changed in the past ten years.

St. Louis Today reporter Jim Doyle has a very insightful article that explores this new pharmacy landscape that is on the not too distant horizon. “Independent, family-owned pharmacies are struggling to stay in business. Pinched by insurance companies, large retail chains, online pharmacies, Canadian outlets, and mail-order plants, many neighborhood pharmacies in the greater St. Louis area have closed.”

Much of Doyle’s article is based in the St. Louis area, but unfortunately this problem is widespread. “Jennifer’s Pharmacy & Soda Shoppe on Central Avenue in Clayton, for example, opened a lunch fountain to bring in more customers. It also sells children’s games, stuffed animals, greeting cards, vitamins and skin care products. The pharmacy still sells generic drugs and hormone replacement therapy compounds — but avoids entanglements with health insurance companies.

“’They scrape it down to the point where you’re making pennies per prescription,’ said proprietor Jennifer Rich, explaining that insurers’ ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ contracts dictate a customer’s co-pay obligation and set low reimbursement rates for drugs.”

The mail order business is booming for many pharmaceutical companies as they provide the convenience of home delivery, fill prescriptions for up to 90 days, and the volume of medications they deal with allows for lower prices. However, “recent Consumer Reports magazine survey found that independent neighborhood drugstores had higher customer satisfaction ratings than larger retail chains because of fewer errors, swifter service at the pharmacy counter, accessibility to pharmacists, and a higher likelihood that medicines will be ready when promised.”

Those who are in a pharmacy technician program in the San Francisco Bay Area need to be aware of the ever changing business of the pharmaceutical industry. Not only are medications, their dispensaries and their method of treatment constantly changing, but the business side is also adjusting to modern conveniences and profit margins.

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Can Facebook Help in Job Placement?

Who doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account by now? It seems like it’s as common as having a phone number or home address. Now social networking sites have become a major source of job recruitment. If you are a pharmacy technician student, the job possibilities have just increased as more employers are connecting via internet.

Nursezone.com editorial director Carol Burke writes that, “The trend toward using social media to connect employers and job candidates continues to grow. According to research based on a 2009 survey of employers, published by Career Builder, almost half of the employers surveyed reported that they used social networking sites to evaluate and research candidates. That number appears to be growing, as the popularity of sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter continues unabated.”

I must say that I found my first job through meeting a recruiter at a job fair, but my last three positions have been through Craigslist.com. Without the internet, I honestly don’t know how to find a job the old fashioned way. (I don’t even have a newspaper subscription to look through the Help Wanted section!)

Burke reports that, “In a 2010 survey of registered nurses, physicians, pharmacists and allied health care professionals, AMN Healthcare, the nation’s largest health care staffing and workforce solutions company, asked professionals about their use of social and mobile media for job searching. Nearly 1,250 clinicians responded, with 6 out of 10 noting that they have actively searched for a new job in the last two years …Not surprisingly, respondents noted that over the past two years, top job search methods have been referrals, direct contact and then search engines and job boards as the most popular methods.”

One of the best ways for hospitals and clinics to represent themselves is through social networking. This article states that over 900 hospitals have accounts on social networking sites and many are establishing blogs. “For many, Twitter and Facebook allow them to feature community and education programs, specialized health programs or expertise in a particular discipline. Others are using social media sites to promote their facilities as great places to work, with many posting jobs.”

If you are a pharmacy tech student in the San Francisco Bay Area, open that search engine and check out some hospital websites in the area, start a Facebook account and get ready to do some research. It’s never too early to start planning for your future.

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What Kind of Nurse Would Steal a Patient’s Meds?

I’ve been putting off writing on this type of story because it seems so tabloid-like and puts nurses in a bad light. Unfortunately, it seems like every day I see updates or a new story about how a nurse or pharmacy technician has stolen patient medications. I just can’t fathom what could go on in a person’s mind to get to such a low point as to stealing drugs from a patient.
I read a story on Minnesota.cbs.local.com that appalled me. A nurse, Sarah May Casareto, was supposed to administer drugs to a patient who was to have his kidney stones removed. “The patient should have received 500 mcg of Fetanyl, a schedule II controlled substance. Instead, authorities allege Casareto ‘wasted’ more than half the drug and took 50 for herself. The patient received 150 mcg — about a third of the intended dosage.”
Furthermore, what completely disturbed me was that the patient was “screaming and moaning during the procedure” while the nurse appeared to be tired, dizzy,” belligerent and disoriented”. First of all, if a patient is in that much distress, wouldn’t the other staff present try to tend to his needs? Wouldn’t they know that something was amiss if the appropriate dosage of Fetanyl was administered? Secondly, if the nurse who consumed the medication was acting strangely, not performing her tasks and appeared “intoxicated”, shouldn’t someone have pulled her aside or removed her from assisting with a medical procedure?
The article on the website continues by saying that “After the procedure, a colleague found Casareto with two unlabeled syringes in her pocket. The colleague told her to throw the syringes away, and she emptied one syringe and threw it in the garbage…The colleague then refused to sign the medication sheet after the surgery, believing medication had been wasted or unused.
“When doctors and human resources representatives later confronted Casareto on the matter, they found an additional four empty syringes in her scrubs. She was asked to take a drug test, but instead resigned from the hospital… Casareto later met with police and told them she was dependent on pain medication.”
As a professional in Vocational Nursing, pharmacy technician, or RN, this incident just reminds me how important it is to be the patient’s advocate, not just protecting them from illness or injury, but from any source that may hinder the result of healing.
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