If Americans bring medicines to their neighborhood drugstores, odds are the person in the white lab coat who receives them and records the order in the network is not a pharmacologist. Neither, most likely, is the person who puts the medicines in the medication vial.
They’re apparently pharmacy technicians, in some cases teens with no more than high school degrees. The nation’s largest drugstore series say technicians don’t change druggists though the businesses have come to rely on professionals because of regional shortages of pharmacologists and steady improvements in medicines.
Walgreens, the nation’s most comprehensive drugstore series by sales and earnings, uses about 39,000 professionals, compared with more than 24,000 druggists. CVS, CVS’s most comprehensive retail chain in terms of store count, operates about 41,000 science technicians, more than doubled the 20,000 druggists who work for the firm.
Professionals do much of the official work apothecaries used to do, such as medical data entry, counting pills, filling vials, and ringing records. Depending on your point of view, that’s good advice, because it frees apothecaries to do more important clinical purposes — or wrong because pharmacy technicians seldom make errors that apothecaries don’t catch and because pharmacologists often have little time to help teach the professionals.
The hiring system does make good marketing sense: Specialists earn an average of $11 an hour. That changes to about $23,000 a year for those who work full time. Many apothecaries make more than $100,000 a year.
Unlike pharmacologists, who are governed by science boards in each state, pharmacy technicians are differently controlled from state to state. The Pharmacy Technician Certification Board ensures that those who pass their final meet a national standard.
But technicians don’t need that certification to work in many states. Just 30 times even mention certification in their laws, and most of those don’t mandate it.
That appears as a wonder to many Americans, according to the certification board, which determines the two-hour, 100-question exam that tests technicians’ experience of science practices.
In December, the board published the outcomes of a survey that found 73% of respondents considered professionals “are required by law to be trained and approved before they can help prepare medicines.” Just 9% identified that as false.
The nation’s state governments should raise rules by requiring professionals to pass a regulated certification exam, states Paul Doering, a University of Florida chemistry professor. He writes that some nations, such as Germany, order two years of formal training.
Pharmacy Technicians in Retail Companies
Walgreens wag maintains nearly 26,000 of its engineers are guaranteed; the chain supports test fees and gives increases to professionals who pass. CVS says about 12,000 of its practitioners are allowed; the chain pays for study designs and recording fees.
Both chains also have company wide training practices. Walgreens states it is the only chain whose training has been recognized by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. CVS needs pharmacy technicians to pass internal training at three levels as they move up to more difficult duties, says Papatya Tankut, vice president of professional science services.
Technicians “focus on the special functions and (allow) the pharmacologist time to do the acknowledged functions that a professional cannot,” such as counseling sufferers, Tankut states. “That allows a pharmacologist time to feel not overburdened.”
Within the business, there is no agreement on how many professionals a single apothecary is capable of conducting while still ensuring medicine security. At least 16 states have no limits, according to a study by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Six others allow a 4-to-1 ratio of specialists to pharmacologists. The outstanding states have ratios of 2-to-1 or 3-to-1.
Drugstore chains and many industry specialists say such ratios are safe. Still, a USA TODAY analysis of science board records in 10 states found many instances in which apothecaries did not get professional errors.
In a typical example, Massachusetts pharmacy board records show an unidentified engineer “entered the information incorrectly into the computer” in the direction a CVS drugstore dispensed to Shaun Taylor. The Kingston man experienced breathing difficulties that needed hospital treatment in 2005 after he was given a Fentanyl painkiller skin patch three times stronger than ordered, the records show.
An investigation report by the Massachusetts Division of Health Professions Licensure has discovered the prescribing physician wrote other data in the space where knowledge about drug strength goes typically, which CVS said was a contributing factor.
But the druggist didn’t support the hard copy of the direction, “and by jumping this step, she missed the chance of catching the technician error,” the report stated.
CVS And Taylor Agreement
Philip Burgess, Walgreens’ national manager of medical affairs, said in a 2006 deposition that the chain had to rely on professionals and new technology to cope with the rising medicine volume.
The number of medicines “is going to proceed to rise as the baby boomers move into the pill-taking age,” Burgess said. “And the signs of apothecaries to fill them is not going to be able to keep pace.”