Across the United States, pharmacies face increasing demands and challenging profit margins. A recent survey of 643 independent pharmacy owners found that 58% are likely to close their doors in the next year or two if business doesn’t improve.
The reason, according to pharmacy owners, is simple: costs are going up, and profits are steadily declining. An overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) cited increases indirect and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees or declining reimbursement rates as the primary reason their pharmacy’s future is uncertain. Fortunately, there are ways for pharmacies to reduce costs while providing more effective care and better service to a broader patient population.
How? By investing in pharmacy technicians. Here are a few facts about pharmacy technicians that can help solve some of the challenges pharmacies face.
1. They’re the Bridge Between Pharmacist & Patient
For most patients, the pharmacy may be the first and last stop in their care. Patients see their pharmacy staff more than any other healthcare professional, and a 2016 Gallup poll found that respondents trust pharmacy professionals as much as they do their primary care providers. The role pharmacy technicians play in building that trust goes beyond interacting with your pharmacy’s customers: when utilized correctly, technicians can also handle a lot of the workload that would otherwise fall on the pharmacist’s shoulders. That means pharmacists can focus more on the clinical aspect of their role, which is how most pharmacists prefer to practice.
A well-trained and credentialed staff of pharmacy technicians will improve quality of care for pharmacy customers, make your pharmacist’s life easier, and even help attract new business. Yet despite all these benefits, many pharmacies overlook their technicians. Most often, it’s because they simply don’t realize that pharmacy technicians can do far more than what is typically expected of them.
2. Their Responsibilities Can Be Expanded Through Training & Certification
Certified pharmacy technicians can be trained to perform advanced tasks in a number of specialized roles, including but not limited to:
- Sterile product preparation (IVs)
- Chemotherapy/Nuclear pharmacy
- Technician Product Verification
- Medication Reconciliation
Additionally, pharmacy technicians can be trained to assist your pharmacist with ancillary clinical duties such as CLIA-waived point-of-care testing, vaccines and immunizations, and medication therapy management (MTM). Pharmacy technicians can also be trained to handle prior authorizations for third-party payers, inventory management, insurance billing and procurement.
The more valuable patient care services your pharmacy offers, the more providers will trust you to care for their patients. For example, providers often prefer to send patients with complex medication needs to pharmacies that have experience with compounding.
3. More Services Means More Business & Happier Customers
A well-trained and knowledgeable team helps your pharmacy attract new customers. Providers prefer to work with pharmacies that can make things easier for their patients and offer good continuity of care.
Patients also benefit from a well-rounded pharmacy staff, both in terms of customer satisfaction and patient outcomes. Prior authorizations can create a significant burden for patients: a 2018 study found that roughly one out of every 10 prescriptions is rejected at the pharmacy, and 66% of those rejections are because the prescription claim requires a PA. This is a frustrating and sometimes overwhelming experience for patients; in fact, 36% of rejected claims requiring a prior authorization are abandoned, leaving your customers both unhappy and unable to continue their treatment.
Having pharmacy technicians who understand insurance billing can help ensure that patients receive the medication they need at the best cost. And remember: the easier it is for patients to receive their medication, the more providers will send their patients to your pharmacy.
4. They Can Reduce Pharmacist Workload
A recent survey found that 59% of respondents ask their pharmacists questions “often” or “sometimes,” and one quarter of respondents have either made or changed a health care decision based on a conversation with a pharmacist. If your pharmacist can’t speak with customers because they’re too busy with tasks your pharmacy technicians are able to handle themselves, patient care will suffer—as will your business.
With the right training, pharmacy technicians can manage more of your pharmacy’s non-clinical workload, which means your pharmacist can spend more time on the clinical work they were trained to do. Your pharmacy technicians may even be able to pick up some of the pharmacist’s duties: in some states, technician product verification, or tech-check-tech is permitted. This means technicians can help with drug order entry, check the work of other technicians, and in some cases, even dispense medicine.
By encouraging your pharmacy technicians to work to the limits of their certification, your pharmacy will avoid wasting your pharmacist’s time—and your money—on tasks that could easily be handled by another member of the team.
5. They’re Cost-Effective
Perhaps the most compelling reason to hire more pharmacy technicians or invest in training for your existing staff is because it’s much more cost-effective than hiring an additional pharmacist to keep up with the workload. The average salary for a pharmacy technician is around $35,000/year, while hiring another pharmacist could cost your business about $135,000/year. The pharmacy technician field is among the fastest-growing in the country: the field is expected to grow by 32% from 2010 to 2030, and experts project that 10,000 new pharmacy technician jobs will become available in the next year alone.
By saving on pharmacy staff overhead, pharmacies can allocate more resources toward implementing customer-centric solutions like automated refill requests, and pharmacists can spend more time performing direct patient care services. As more states (and hopefully soon, the federal government) recognize pharmacists as providers, the direct patient care services they perform become eligible for payment through medical insurance coverage, creating new streams of revenue for the pharmacy.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that DIR fees will go down or that reimbursement rates will increase anytime soon, and independent pharmacies need to find ways to compensate for that lost income. That means lowering overhead, capturing new revenue streams, and bringing in new business. There are plenty of ways your pharmacy can meet each of those goals, but if you want to kill three birds with one stone and position your pharmacy for long-term success, invest in pharmacy technicians. It’s money well spent.