(Courtesy of Pharmacy Times) – Now that the 2020 influenza season has officially kicked off, Americans are looking to pharmacy professionals to help with vaccinations while they also prepare for a highly anticipated coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine.
Some may be surprised, however, to see which pharmacy professionals are being called to the helm during this time of need.
CVS Health recently announced that it will be hiring more than 10,000 full- and part-time licensed pharmacy technicians (techs) who can help dispense medications and administer COVID-19 tests. These workforce changes are being made in preparation for the next phase of the pandemic, as the number of daily cases continues to rise apace.
“Our pharmacy teams continue to play a critical role in the nation’s pandemic response. Authorization for trained pharmacy technicians to administer COVID-19 vaccines, under the supervision of immunization-certified pharmacists, will expand capacity throughout the US to efficiently and safely vaccinate millions of Americans,” Ryan Rumbarger, senior vice president of retail store operations at CVS Pharmacy said in an interview.
“Our hiring efforts will be focused on hiring new pharmacy technicians in the coming months, which will bolster this effort, and we’re proud to do our part to help slow the spread of the virus and move the country forward,” he said.
This news also comes within days of the US Department of Health and Human Services releasing a statement of guidance for Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act coverage authorizing qualified techs and state-authorized pharmacy interns to administer childhood vaccines and COVID- 19 testing and vaccines.
Tech-targeted research is also documenting the many benefits of incorporating techs at a higher level and allowing them to perform more advanced skills and duties within the pharmacy. Upskilling of the tech workforce to undertake tasks routinely completed by a pharmacist helps free up pharmacist time, leading to role optimization. Additionally, techs welcome the challenge of new roles and the career development opportunities these present and they report greater job satisfaction when given the opportunity for growth.
A recent article highlighted various studies that investigated the reported savings when a tech completed an advanced scope task that was normally the responsibility of another health professional, such as a nurse or pharmacist.
Investigators noted several workforce efficiencies and their impact as follows:
- All studies required the tech to complete training and reported positively on tech effectiveness in addition to the cost savings, which is consistent with another review on tech effectiveness.
- According to all the studies, pharmacy techs practicing in an advanced scope role were just as effective as, and in some instances more effective than, the other health professionals to whom they were being compared. This is consistent with previous literature on the subject.
- Cost savings arose from interventions where techs completed patient-facing tasks. The savings in this area were linked primarily to the difference in wages between pharmacists and techs.
- Results from most studies reported time saved when a tech worked at an advanced scope.
- Savings were realized through wage reductions when a tech was substituted for a pharmacist.
- Techs acting in dispensary roles produced the highest average annual savings because the studies were reporting a complete role substitution, eg, when accuracy checking of dispensed medications was a tech’s rather than a pharmacist’s responsibility.
There is no doubt that the fast-tracked push to elevate techs’ role will continue as we get deeper into the influenza season.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the important role pharmacists and technicians play in supporting the health of communities across the nation,” said Lorri Walmsley, RPh, FAzPA, the director of pharmacy affairs at Walgreens in Phoenix, Arizona. “While many states have recognized this through recent actions to expand technician scope of practice and increase or eliminate technician to pharmacist ratio requirements, there is still more to be done to enable technicians to practice at the top of their capabilities and provide patients with an additional point of access to the health care system.”
The role of techs has been advancing over the years, but it has become more critical and evident during the pandemic. Techs have gained additional opportunities to advance their education, learn new skills, become more engaged in professional associations and advocacy efforts, and garner heightened recognition for the work they do as valued members of the pharmacy workforce.