Delegate (to Technicians) to Grow Your Business
Empower technicians so pharmacists are free to do more
“With the introduction of the Affordable Care Act, and even predecessor laws, we have seen an evolution of pharmacy practice,” said Ned Milenkovich, a partner at Much Shelist and vice chair of the Illinois State Board of Pharmacy. As a result, pharmacists are not just dispensing medicine; they now are being paid for cognitive services, such as MTM, noted Milenkovich, who earned a doctorate in pharmacy before his law degree, and who writes a monthly column for Drug Topics.
“By utilizing and leveraging technicians to do even more, pharmacists can have a greater impact on revenue for their pharmacies and on patients,” he said. (To understand how improved clinical services may increase pharmacy revenue, see “Clinical Performance: A Prove-It Moment for Independent Pharmacies.”)
As the role of pharmacies grows, so too will the need for capable technicians. The U.S. Department of Labor expects the number of jobs for pharmacy technicians to grow 20% from 2012 to 2022, nearly double the average growth rate for all occupations.1 One of the reasons for that growth projection is the need for technicians to take on greater responsibilities to free pharmacists to perform more patient-care activities.
Tasks to Delegate
Pharmacy technicians may be able to assist pharmacists in:
- Inputting data
- Prepackaging and dispensing medications
- Operating automated dispensing equipment
- Supporting medication synchronization programs
- Maintaining inventory
Check the laws and regulations in your area regarding what technicians may and may not do.
How One Pharmacy Uses Technicians
Steve Coomes, owner of Aubrey Health Mart Pharmacy in Texas, employs six certified pharmacy technicians, including his pharmacy manager, as well as one registered technician trainee and two clerks. He takes time to choose the right staff members, train them and find the right fit for them in the pharmacy.
Coomes and Milenkovich offer these ideas for making the most of your staff:
- Take the time to hire right. Finding the right technician for your pharmacy can take at least a month, including time to recruit, interview and train. Coomes follows recommendations from Pharmacy Development Services for hiring, including checking a job candidate’s references. Since many of his new hires have relocated to the area he will call their former employer and ask questions like, “Were you sad this person left your pharmacy?” (Find tips for hiring excellent employees in “Recruit Top Talent to Your Pharmacy Staff” and “Avoid Costly Hiring Mistakes.”)
- Verify credentials. Although requirements vary widely from state to state, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) says most jurisdictions register, certify or license pharmacy technicians, and a third have continuing education requirements.2 An NABP task force is recommending that by 2015 state boards require certified technicians to complete accredited education and training. In hiring technicians, pharmacy owners need to ensure potential employees meet the requirements of their state laws and their credentials are in good standing, Milenkovich said. The pharmacy can check with the state pharmacy board itself or hire an outside firm to do so.
- Understand and explain the limits. Technicians need to understand what they are allowed to do and what they cannot do under state and federal laws, such as receiving oral prescriptions from prescribers and recommending over-the-counter medications. Regulations differ among states, so ensure your technicians understand the limits in your area.Pharmacists and technicians also need to understand their state’s requirements for what constitutes supervision of a technician. Although a pharmacist probably does not need to hover over a technician, Milenkovich noted, regulations may require the pharmacist to be in the same room or readily accessible to the technician.
- Define and teach your pharmacy culture. For a new technician’s first week or two at Aubrey Health Mart, the technician works closely with Coomes or Don West, the pharmacy manager. Even if a technician is experienced and is familiar with things such as pharmacy software, Coomes wants to ensure that every new employee fully understands his personal expectations and the pharmacy’s culture and emphasis on service. That includes saying “Yes” or “No,” not “Yeah” or “Nah,” and always using “Please” and “Thank you.” He also wants technicians to understand that customers often come to the pharmacy at a difficult time in their lives, and he expects the technicians to be caring and compassionate in working with them.
- Create systems and safeguards. Milenkovich recommends creating systems and practices that allow the least possible chance for a medication dispensing error or mishap. That includes using technological safeguards to prevent errors.
- Define assignments. The staff members at Aubrey Health Mart Pharmacy all have lists of the tasks they must complete on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. When Coomes gives a technician an assignment, he asks, “Do you feel comfortable that you have been provided what you need to know?”
- Use technicians’ unique skills. Each technician at Aubrey Health Mart Pharmacy also has a specialty. No one is assigned to do data entry all day. “Make them feel important, that they matter,” Coomes said. “We encourage differentiation in their daily routines,” he said. In addition to being the pharmacy manager, West works with the IT systems. When the pharmacy added a medication synchronization program, Coomes said it was a natural fit for technician Margie Green to work on that program, because she is well organized and “super personable,” someone with whom customers enjoy talking. The lead technician works in the compounding area. One technician is responsible for cleaning and filling the Parata machines, another takes care of invoicing and returns, and yet another is responsible for daily ordering. However, they rotate working in different areas of the pharmacy. For example, a technician may enter data at the beginning of a shift and then move to a special responsibility. Coomes encourages the technicians to back each other up. “Don’t ask us what you’re going to do,” he tells them. “Ask each other.”
- Show confidence in their authority. Coomes offers his technicians the opportunity to make decisions, backed by full confidence from him. “They get acknowledged for stepping into power,” he said, and they know that they can check with Coomes or West if they need to.
- Communicate effectively. In addition to giving direct feedback to staff, Coomes also uses weekly staff meetings to address any issues without calling anyone out publicly, such as reminding everyone to check their intra-office email regularly. Instead of ordering a technician to do something, Coomes explained that he’ll “invite them to step into a job.” So, instead of telling a specific technician to start working on data entry, for example, he will ask who is going to do it, and at least one will move to take on the responsibility. Coomes also has learned that sometimes it is easier for a technician to hear corrective feedback from the pharmacy manager — another technician — rather than the owner, which can be intimidating.
- Finally, learn to let go. Creating a strong employee team is vital not only for your pharmacy, but also for your well-being. (See “11 Tips to Avoid Job Burnout.”) Show your well-trained employees that you have confidence in them, and don’t micromanage your pharmacy into the ground, Coomes advised. “If you don’t trust your employees, then get rid of them and hire somebody you do trust,” he said.
After hiring another full-time pharmacist, Coomes recently went on a 10-day vacation. Not only did he not check in with the pharmacy during that vacation, but he didn’t even take his cell phone on vacation. Nothing came up that his staff wasn’t prepared to handle.
For independent pharmacies, there are significant growth opportunities in evolving and providing more types of revenue-generating clinical services. This evolution requires that pharmacy owners use their scarce time even more effectively. This means delegating to trusted technicians who understand your operations, culture and service orientation. Through effective hiring and training, technicians can do even more, enabling your entire pharmacy to thrive.
How do you effectively hire, train and use technicians in your pharmacy? Tell us about it in the Comments section below.