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By Ashley Boyce, an allied health world staff writer
Published: January, 7 2010
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Pharmacy Technician—Taking a closer look into this high-demand field
Prescription pharmaceutical drugs are one of the most important components to the success of modern medicine. Pharmacy techs play an integral role in the medical industry by helping to manage and distribute these prescription drugs to the sick and elderly. Pharmacy techs work under the direct supervision of licensed pharmacists to help in handling the many daily duties in a busy retail, hospital, or online pharmacy. Patients and pharmacists alike rely on pharmacy techs to help keep the pharmacy running smooth and efficiently by performing many pharmacy-related tasks. They work as liaisons between patients and pharmacists, and doctors and insurance companies.
Pharmacy techs are public-facing members of a pharmacy’s staff that frequently interact with patients and recipients of doctor-prescribed medicine. Patients and members of the public who routinely pick up medication for pain maintenance, diabetes, or any other ailment that requires an ongoing medicinal regimen most likely interact only with the pharmacy tech on duty and not the actual pharmacist. In many instances, as far as the customer is concerned, the pharmacy tech is the face of the pharmacy. They are essential to the work that is done behind the scenes, while also acting as the customer service representatives of the business.
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Where do pharmacy techs work?
Pharmacy techs will most frequently be found in neighborhood retail pharmacies. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), retail pharmacies employ 71% of the nearly 300,000 pharmacy techs working in the U.S. This would represent all retail pharmacies, whether independently owned, or part of a chain or mass retailer. The prescription drug buying public has demonstrated its overwhelming preference for working face to face with familiar pharmacists or pharmacy techs in their neighborhood pharmacy, making this still the most popular channel through which to fill a prescription.
Hospitals also employ pharmacy techs in their in-facility pharmacies. These pharmacy techs have some unique responsibilities and handle some prescriptions not provided through the retail channel.
The internet has created in more recent years a new channel through which patients can get their prescriptions filled. This, of course, is through the incredibly convenient and aptly named: online pharmacy. Although increasing in popularity, this still remains the channel that employs the fewest pharmacy techs.
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What is the relationship between pharmacists and pharmacy technicians?
The relationship between pharmacist and pharmacy technician is somewhat symbiotic in that each relies on the other to provide the customer with efficient and comprehensive service. Pharmacy staff members work together as a team to accomplish a common goal. Although each may perform unique tasks, there is some overlap as pharmacy techs are more and more often handling responsibilities once reserved only for pharmacists. In this capacity pharmacists work as the overseer of pharmacy tech work. They confirm prescriptions were prepared correctly by the pharmacy tech and have the final word on whether a prescription is to be filled. Pharmacies have found that it is much more efficient and cost-effective for pharmacy techs to measure and sort medicine with their work later reviewed and verified by the pharmacist, than to have the pharmacist perform these tasks himself. This frees pharmacists up to be able to perform the task that is uniquely theirs: customer consultation.
Despite the many responsibilities a pharmacy tech has, they must refer a customer in every instance to a registered pharmacist for consultation and instruction on the use of a prescribed or non-prescribed medicine. Pharmacists have spent between four and eight years being educated on pharmaceuticals, their side affects, and how they interact with each other. This gives them a comprehensive knowledge of drugs which puts them in the position to be made liable for misinformation or negligence. Pharmacists are able to recommend the use of non prescription drugs based on a customer’s symptoms. If a customer were to ask a pharmacy tech to recommend an over-the-counter medication for a simple cough or congestion for example, the tech would refer them to the resident pharmacist. Pharmacists can authorize the use of certain drugs, council patients on the methods of administering drugs, discuss potential side-affects, and take prescriptions directly from doctors by phone. Pharmacy techs will refer clients to the pharmacist for assistance with any of these things.
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