There is a lot of information out there on how to become a pharmacy technician, and why it is such a good career. However, very few people know exactly what these professionals do. People assume that their role mainly has to do with helping pharmacists count pills and enter prescriptions. They will do this, particularly in retail or outpatient pharmacies, but they often do a lot more as well, depending on where they work.

Retail and Community Pharmacies:

Many pharmacy technicians work in these types of locations. What they are able to do will depend on the state where they work, as the pharmacy technician job is guided by state laws. Generally, they are not allowed to provide patients with clinical information, nor can they do the final check. Sometimes, they are able to provide information on OTC (over the counter) medication. Their most common tasks include:

– Collecting personal and insurance information on patients
– Entering prescriptions on the pharmacy’s system and processing them
– Selling and filling of prescriptions
– Speaking to physicians to request a refill on behalf of patients
– Compounding non-commercial medications
– Order new medication
– Answering the telephone
– Restocking shelves
– Liaising with insurance companies with regards to medication payments
– Conducting accounting and cash register functions

Hospital Pharmacies:

The role of a pharmacy technician in a hospital pharmacy is wide and varied. Often, they work in central pharmacies of hospitals, but they can also work as a sterile compounding technician, decentralized technician, OR technician, billing technician, database technician, narcotics technician, team lead technician, automation technician, or buyer technician. Their exact tasks will vary depending on their precise role, but usually include:

– Filling orders for regular and specialized medication
– Answering the telephone
– Preparing medication to be delivered and then delivering it
– Tubing medication
– Assisting the floor pharmacists with IV drip checks and medication histories
– Billing medication outside of nurse charting
– Handling missing dose issues
– Restocking the OR and anesthesia trays
– Maintaining the database
– Tracking and dispensing controlled substances within the hospital.
– Holding responsibility for all automation equipment
– Buying supplies and medication required within the pharmacy
– Managing and leading the workforce, including scheduling and rotas

Long Term Care Pharmacies:

Some say that the long term care pharmacy is one of the best places for a pharmacy technician to work. This is because there is quite a sizeable workforce there due to the variety of required work. These pharmacies work with assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and psychiatric facilities. Typically, they are based in warehouses. These are different from other pharmacies because there is no open area where patients or even medical staff can stay. Rather, they receive orders electronically or via fax, which is then couriered or driven to the appropriate facility. Generally speaking, blister packs are provided through here, which means that they supply medication in larger amounts than what a regular pharmacy would do. The role of the pharmacy technician there includes such tasks as:

– Filling and refilling orders for large dosages
– Processing all fills and refills that are faxed or emailed to the pharmacy
– Entering the prescriptions on the system and printing the relevant labels, which are then sent to the fill technicians
– Compounding medication in a sterile way if needed, which often requires specialized training
– Ensuring that medical facilities are appropriately billed for their medications
– Ordering supplies and medications
– Documenting and dispensing controlled substances
– Restocking any medication returns if they are still suitable

Home Infusion Pharmacies:

This is the type of pharmacy that offers medication to patients who need non-oral medication, for instance through an IV line, and do so within their home environment. The focus here is strongly on sterile compounding, which does require additional training. Often a pharmacy technician has to be trained to be an IV room tech in order to perform this role. Tasks include:

– Compounding sterile medications within clean rooms
– Preparing medications in a sterile manner, ready for delivery
– Billing people for their at home medication
– Coordinating with patients to have medication delivered
– Ensuring orders are properly entered on the system

Nuclear Pharmacies:

Nuclear pharmacies offer very interesting working hours, which sets them apart from other types of pharmacies. Usually, work starts at 3am, and ends at 12 noon. These pharmacies work specifically with radioactive compounds, which is what makes them so interesting. The reason why they have to work these strange hours, is because radioactive compounds degrade at a set speed, and they must be made available at a specific time so that they degrade to the acceptable level by the time they are administered. They have a very short half-life, which means that medication must be prepared, sent out, and administered in a very short period of time. Nuclear pharmacy technicians are paid incredibly well, but competition for this type of job is fierce. Their tasks include:

– Preparing a range of radioactive materials
– Preparing and cleaning sterile areas for compounding
– Entering new orders and medications on the computer system
– Coordinating the due times of dosages with preparation and delivery
– Billing clinics and hospitals for the products

HMO and Health Plans Pharmacy Groups:

Last but not least, there is the HMO pharmacy group. It is common for health care plan providers to have their own pharmacy department. Here, the pharmacy benefits if the plans they offer are properly managed. There is also a demand for the skills of pharmacy technicians in this field, and their most common tasks and duties include:

– Answering queries over the telephone and supporting plan holders on the benefits associated with their plan
– Looking into the accuracy of authorization requests
– Supporting drug companies and physicians so that they receive the information they need
– Supporting department pharmacists throughout various projects, particularly with regards to working with databases

Clearly, the role of a pharmacy technician is incredibly diverse and varies depending on where they work. Someone who wants to train to be a technician, therefore, should consider where they would like to work, so that they can ensure their training is directed specifically towards that. Some roles require more specialized training, so it is vital to look into whether or not a chosen college offers that.