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Rx technicians gain recognition.

WASHINGTON--While technology has reduced the workload of retail pharmacists and helped head off potential problems with patient misuse of medications, human intervention in the form of pharmacy technicians has also played a key role in making the nation's pharmacies more efficient.

About 54,000 certified pharmacy technicians are employed in various practice sites across the country, according to Melissa Murer, executive director of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).

Certified technicians, she says, are helping pharmacists in a multitude of ways -- from conducting drug checks to working with technology to help pharmacists wade through the extensive paperwork mandated by managed care programs and other third-party payers.

Founded about five years ago, the mission of the PTCB is to help pharmacists provide better care to patients by working with pharmacy technicians who are certified after passing a three-hour, 125-question exam.

When the PTCB was launched in 1995, most of the interest in certified technicians came from the hospital arena. But in the last two years, Murer points out, a greater commitment to the program has been made by community pharmacy operators.

The number of persons applying to take the PTCB exam is expanding rapidly. About 9,000 people will take the March 25 test, and even more are expected to take the July 22 exam (May 26 is the deadline for registering).

Murer notes that additional information about the exam is available over the group's web site,

"Over the last three years we have seen much stronger acceptance by chains and other major employers in having pharmacists and technicians work together under a team concept," says Murer.

But with that development has come controversy. A recent wire service report alleged that many states require no licensing or training of technicians, that technicians are under minimal oversight from pharmacists and that most of them have only on-the-job training.

Although Murer concedes the need for improvement, she notes that changes are being made -- from the voluntary certification and recertification overseen by the PTCB to a number of initiatives undertaken by by state pharmacy boards and legislatures.

State pharmacy boards are examining the role, function and related certification, education and training requirements for pharmacy technicians.

Muter notes legislation mandating such action has already passed or been proposed in Texas, Utah, Louisiana and Kentucky.

Other states take a different approach. In Oregon, for instance, a store can have a greater pharmacist-to-technician ratio if the technicians are certified; in Virginia technicians have broad leeway to work with pharmacy automation and technology.

For its part, however, the PTCB's interest isn't just in the certification process.

"We're looking to see not only how technicians are being used but how they can be better used by working with employers, schools of pharmacy, other national pharmacy associations and other trade groups," Muter says.

PTCB is working with stakeholders to share information on how technicians can free time for pharmacists to discuss potential adverse drug interactions with patients, to review medication therapies and to prevent errors.

"In the last few years we have seen more and more interest from chain pharmacy," Muter says. "Walgreen Co. has been with us since 1997, and last year Eckerd Corp. and Albertson's Inc. increased their hiring of certified pharmacy technicians."
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Publication:Chain Drug Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 13, 2000
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