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New pharm tech rule a plus for patients

A new regulation that gives pharmacy technicians more power will give pharmacists more time. And this is good news for…

By Natalie Dobbin , in Health , on March 28, 2011 Tags: , ,

Rai is the UBC jr. representative for the Canadian Association of Pharmacy Students and Interns
Rai is the UBC jr. representative for the Canadian Association of Pharmacy Students and Interns

A new regulation that gives pharmacy technicians more power will give pharmacists more time.

And this is good news for patients and pharmacy students entering the field.

Currently pharmacists spend a lot of time on technical work, such as counting pills. This is only a portion of what pharmacists are trained to do.

The Pharmacy Technician Regulation in B.C. came into place Jan. 1, 2011, and creates a new and more rigorous category in the health profession – a pharmacy technician. This role will be above an existing technician (technicians can gain this designation but would have to complete the new steps). The process to gain this designation is voluntary.

“The biggest motivation for the college to regulate pharmacy technicians is that there’s a lot of evolution that’s happening in pharmacy today and the main focus of that is for pharmacists to spend more of their time doing what we call clinical services … to better help patients manage and understand their drug therapies,” said Lori DeCou, director of communications for the College of Pharmacists of B.C., in a phone interview.

The first registered pharmacy technician in B.C. is expected to graduate early this spring, DeCou said.

Ontario became the first province to regulate pharmacy technicians in early December.

Khushminder Rai, a third-year pharmacy student at UBC, said it is difficult to understand the impact of this regulation because no one is regulated as of yet, but from what she’s heard from the college it seems like pharmacists will be doing less dispensing.

“We will be more involved with counselling the patient, which is what I think the focus should be on,” said Rai, who works at a Safeway Pharmacy in Surrey once a week.

Marion Pearson, director of the entry to practice program at UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences, said there are some concerns that the registered technicians are going to have “the authority to do certain tasks that pharmacists have the authority to do.”

She said some pharmacists are supportive because the designation will create more time for them to work with clients, while others are concerned that their jobs may be at risk.

However, she said this is because until recently the way in which businesses were compensated for their work was tied to dispensing prescriptions and not other services.

This is changing.

A July 2010 Pharmacy Services Agreement from the Minister of Health Services, British Columbia Pharmacy Association, and the Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores explains a new pharmacy services model, which is expected to cost $10 million in the fiscal year 2011-2012.

‘Counting checking, counting checking’

George Cunningham Building, Pharmaceutical Sciences UBC
George Cunningham Building, Pharmaceutical Sciences UBC

Pearson added that one winner could be pharmacy students. She said they are currently highly skilled in order to be prepared for the many different types of jobs that are available, and not being able to use these skills in practice can be a source of frustration.

“So I think the problem is not the education, it’s the practice. And there’s been talk for 20 years about changing the nature of practice, and it’s been very, very slow in coming,” said Pearson.

For examples, student work already includes pharmacy courses in a simulated lab environment.

Rai said pharmacists could offer more of what they know and “use their potential a little bit more.”

“Now we’re basically counting checking, counting checking, and we don’t get to use the drug knowledge that we’ve gained, that we’ve been studying all these [drug molecule] structures,” said Rai, adding that people frequently bring in printouts of drug information and they want information.

“We can take a look at the structure and tell what kind of medication it is, where it’s going to work,” Rai said.

Pearson said, “We don’t have a health system, we have an illness care system and the whole issue of wellness and maintaining health is underemphasized and pharmacists should be involved in that too.”

Meanwhile, the process is straightforward for current technicians who can gain the new title after some training, tests, and a national board exam. The exam takes place twice a year.

James McCormack, a professor in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical  Sciences, said that because community pharmacists get paid to give out medications, the community pharmacist is in a tricky situation when it comes to suggesting patients shouldn’t be taking certain drugs.

The new billing process is “in an attempt to provide payment for services that are divorced from the product,” said  McCormack.

McCormack said he is generally in favour of the new pharmacy technician regulation. He said he hopes it will push a change in  practice toward more cognitive services.

Steps to gain pharmacy technician title

Current technicians

Current technicians need 2,000 hours minimum of work in the past two years. This work is defined by the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada.

These technicians must complete:

  • Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada Evaluating Exam (some exceptions exist)
  • College of Pharmacists of B.C. Bridging Program, which is run through a partnership between the college and the Division of Continuing Pharmacy Professional Development in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of BC (UBC-CPPD). This consists of four 33 to 45-hour modules that can be done in class or online. Three units can be challenged by taking an exam, but not the section called Professional Practice.
  • College of British Columbia Jurisprudence Exam
  • Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada Qualifying Exam

Future pharmacy technicians will have to:

  • Take a program qualified by the Canadian Council for Accreditation of Pharmacy Programs
  • College of British Columbia Structure Practical Training
  • College of British Columbia Jurisprudence Exam
  • Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada Qualifying Exam

From the College of Pharmacists of B.C.: