PHARMACY

Wide array of options available for tech certification

BY Jim Frederick

Gaining training and accreditation as a certified pharmacy technician is a relatively straightforward process, and access to the required course work and exam is readily available through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and other sites.

The prerequisites for taking the pharmacy technician certification exam are simple, the American Society of Health System Pharmacists noted. Basic requirements include a high school diploma, GED or foreign equivalent, and a record free of any felony or drug-related convictions.

The test itself is administered by PTCB via computer and consists of 90 multiple-choice questions on such topics as assisting pharmacists in serving patients; maintaining medication and inventory control systems; and pharmacy practice administration and management. There are testing locations around the United States, and the exam is now offered year-round. Applicants can take the test as many times as needed to pass and earn the designation of CPhT. Practice tests are available for a fee at PTCB.org.

Beyond basic certification, a growing menu of training courses await techs who want to go further in career advancement or specialize in a particular area of expertise. The National Pharmacy Technician Association, for instance, now offers certificate programs in such areas as sterile product preparation and aseptic technique, drug compounding and most recently, the proper handling of hazardous drugs, also referred to as chemo certification.

That new course teaches pharmacy technicians the latest standards and recommendations on how to prepare, manipulate, store and dispose of hazardous drugs. “Employers are looking for individuals with accredited training and certification in preparing and handling hazardous drugs,” said NPTA founder and CEO Mike Johnston.

Those specialty courses may herald a wider set of changes in the pharmacy tech certification process overall. In March, PTCB began surveying pharmacists and other pharmacy stakeholders to gather feedback on proposed changes to the PTCB certification program, which has “remained largely unchanged since the organization’s founding in 1995,” according to Megan Sheahan, PTCB’s director of professional affairs.

Among the recommendations proposed by the group: “creation of specialty pharmacy technician exams and additional requirements for PTCB certification, such as requiring a minimum period of practical experience, criminal background checks and completion of an accredited education program.”

The Pharmacy Technician Information Center, an interactive website at PharmTechInfoCenter.com, offers a handy resource for techs looking at training program options. Techs can use the site to find a training program, get tips on the certification process from PTCB and learn more about career options.

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Pharmacy techs tackle expanded role

BY Jim Frederick

Are the nation’s more than 330,000 pharmacy technicians ready to step up to a higher level of patient services and a more demanding but rewarding career?

For most pharmacy techs, that step up in duties is either fast approaching or has already begun. Given the massive changes sweeping the severely stressed U.S. healthcare system and the retail, clinical and hospital pharmacies that serve it, thousands of technicians in those settings are already taking on meatier roles as they fill the void left by pharmacists called on to perform additional clinical services.

The additional support needed by technicians is a direct result of the fundamental shifts in patient care responsibilities that are transforming the pharmacy workplace. As overburdened primary care physicians turn to pharmacists, nurse practitioners and other health professionals to take on more of the routine care and monitoring of patients, pharmacists are focusing increasingly less on prescription drug dispensing, pharmacy administration and insurance adjudication. With physicians looking to ease their patient caseloads for routine conditions, hospitals releasing patients “quicker and sicker,” and health plan payers desperately scrambling for more cost-effective ways to improve their patients’ health and well-being, pharmacists are taking on increasing responsibility for such clinical services as patient education and oversight, disease management, immunizations and medication therapy management.

Given the growing complexity of the position, training and certification are fast becoming a basic requirement for any post as a pharmacy technician. “More and more employers are requiring pharmacy technician certification,” the American Society of Health System Pharmacists noted. “Most pharmacy technician job postings say that they want candidates who are either already certified or are currently enrolled in pharmacy technician school.”

At this point, only a relative handful of states — Colorado, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — “currently do not require registration, licensure or certification of pharmacy technicians,” according to the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. And a growing number of states — a total of 16, according to the “2011 Survey of Pharmacy Law” from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy — now require that all pharmacy techs be certified by PTCB or other accrediting body before working behind the counter.

PTCB urges techs to “consult their state board of pharmacy for complete and current pharmacy regulations and practice acts.”

The growth of tech responsibilities and the rise in training requirements go hand in hand. “With increasing levels of training and certification, the role of the tech continues to evolve,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted in a recent report. “In many cases, he or she handles virtually every step of the prescription dispensing workload, up until final verification of the script by the pharmacist before it goes to the patient. Techs also may establish and maintain patient profiles, prepare insurance claim forms, and stock and take inventory of prescription and over-the-counter medications.”

“As cost-conscious insurers begin to use pharmacies as patient care centers and pharmacists become more involved in patient care, pharmacy technicians will continue to see an expansion of their role,” the bureau report predicted.

At its most basic level, the forces that are reshaping the roles of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are driven by “the power of community pharmacy services to improve health and reduce costs,” said Steve Anderson, president and CEO of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, at the organization’s annual meeting April 22.

“The value added by community pharmacy — in the areas of medication counseling, health education, screenings, vaccinations and disease state management — can add tremendous value to a healthcare system that needs solutions that are cost-effective, high-quality and patient-centric,” Anderson said.

NACDS, for its part, is on record supporting “mandatory requirements for training and evaluating technicians.” The organization also favors the adoption by all state boards of pharmacy of a set of standards that would “require employer-based pharmacy technician training programs and evaluation exams” to provide techs with “hands-on training and interaction with pharmacists.”

Pressure for a training and certification standard for pharmacy techs also is coming from state boards of pharmacy. Although, at present, “only a few states require you to be certified,” ASHP noted, “that list is growing as pharmacists depend more on technicians for support.”

What’s more, noted a report from the National Pharmacy Technician Association, “with the invention of e-prescribing, pharmacy technicians may find they may need to attend training on electronic prescribing and protocol in the pharmacy … as more pharmacies adapt to more efficient and electronically savvy ways of doing business.”

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Blood Sugar Basics Game Plan seeks to help Type 2 diabetics better manage condition

BY Allison Cerra

PHILADELPHIA — An interactive user-friendly program that breaks down diabetes management into four goals to help people with Type 2 diabetes better manage their disease has made its debut.

Developed by the American College of Endocrinology with support from drug maker Merck, the Blood Sugar Basics Game Plan, available on BloodSugarBasics.com, outlines four personalized goals — Huddle, Enter the Nutrition Zone, Get in the Game, and Check the Scoreboard — that people with Type 2 diabetes can put into practice with the help of a healthcare professional. The website also includes such resources as questions to ask your doctor, tips about managing high and low blood sugar, a blood sugar knowledge quiz and checklists on how to help get through episodes of low and high blood sugar.

The Blood Sugar Basics Game Plan is supported by "coaches," including Mike Golic, co-host of ESPN’s "Mike & Mike in the Morning" and a former National Football League star, who has Type 2 diabetes; clinical endocrinologist Farhad Zangeneh and Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist with expertise in diabetes.


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