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During episode 3, host Jeremy Sasser and co-host Jessica Langley, executive director for education and advocacy at NHA, share insights from NHA's 2019 Industry Outlook research, part of the annual publication, access™: an allied health industry journal. The Industry Outlook research shares insights from employers of pharmacy technicians, better understanding the needs of employers and the value of certification for this role. You can view an overview of the data and insights discussed in this episode below.

Pharmacy Technician Trends


Full Transcript of Episode 3

Speaker 1:
You're listening to the Pharmacy Podcast Network.

Speaker 2:
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Speaker 3:
This is On Script hosted by Jeremy Sasser, a podcast publication partnership between the Pharmacy Podcast Network and National Health Career Association. Our podcast is dedicated to providing the pharmacy technician workforce with news, real life stories and discussions that can impact personal and professional growth. Here's certified pharmacy technician and National Health Career Association Content Strategist, your host Jeremy Sasser. Let's get On Script with NHA.

Jeremy:
Pharmacy Podcast Nation, this is Jeremy Sasser, host of On Script powered by NHA, the only podcast on the Pharmacy Podcast Network dedicated to the pharmacy technician workforce. I'm fortunate enough to be joined today by Jessica Langley once again. As a reminder, she is the executive director of education and...

Jessica:
Advocacy.

Jeremy:
... Advocacy for NHA. So Jessica is going to be talking about some of the data that we got back from some industry research we performed this past year for our publication Access. So we're going to be getting into the details of those figures as they apply to the technician workforce. Jessica, as always, thank you. Always love having you.

Jessica:
I'm happy to be here anytime that I get the opportunity to participate on the podcast and share some insights with our allied health professions that we serve. And most importantly in this case, pharmacy technicians.

Jeremy:
Awesome. And not to mention voice as smooth as silk, right? And so you're going to have to listen to mine only.

Jessica:
We're getting better.

Jeremy:
So before we get into that, we like to do a phrase of the day here on On Script. So today's phrase of the day, soft skills. So we know that anecdotally from listening to a lot of the educators, employers in the industry, soft skills oftentimes in the allied health field is something that could be improved upon.

Jeremy:
So let's get right into this data from Access. So can you share with me some of the primary takeaways that came up from this research?

Jessica:
Sure, so what NHA does every year now we have an annual publication as you mentioned, called Access. Normally it comes out kind of the mid part of the year, end of spring. And what that does is it actually is an industry journal that we've developed to bring expert opinions and data trends to allied health care professionals and the industry. So the research was conducted by a third party that assesses the opinions of employers concerning the professional outlook for certain professions in allied health, most commonly the ones that we serve, the professions that NHA serves.

Jessica:
The survey was in market in March of this year and the respondents were not customers of NHA. We just want to share that. And it was conducted among professionals who are employers of allied health professionals. So getting specifically to your question, Jeremy, around soft skills. In surveying these employers of allied health professionals, it was the main kind of area or skillset that needed enhancement that we were told by our employers, whether it be with pharmacy technicians or other allied health professionals.

Jessica:
And as you mentioned, the big question is is it inherent or learned? If you remember, you were the author in volume one of Access.

Jeremy:
I do, I do recall, yes.

Jessica:
You had a really great article around that philosophy of can our educational programs really make an impact with students or individuals in teaching them how to develop soft skills or should the focus be more around those hard skills or technical skills? And so we have continued to hear that feedback year after year and have now kind of pulled it all together and are looking at across multiple industries what that means.

Jessica:
And so when we think about the top five skills that pharmacy technicians need to develop, about three of the five of them are kind of in that soft skill, interpersonal behavior type mix. So number one being clinical experience, number two patient communication, critical thinking comes in third. Fourth is professionalism, soft skills. And then of course fifth is the important one of safety and compliance.

Jeremy:
Right, and so no one would argue obviously that the ability to perform the tasks behind the counter are of import. But the soft skills around patient communication, critical thinking, professionalism, I think it's a misnomer often times that those are subjective in nature, but there are ways to measure those objectively. And there are certainly ways to get better at them. Not only better at them, but even teach them. There's different methodologies that can be employed to teach improvement of soft skills.

Jessica:
Right, and NHA is continuing to look at some of those methodologies or techniques in our product development. So for example, one method is around simulation and even more so in kind of an AI way or an AI environment to where a student feels safe in walking through a set scenario where they can go down different paths or make different types of communication or behavioral type selections and get feedback as to why or why not that was a good, fair or poor decision and then be kind of graded or assessed on those directions that they took within that conversation.

Jessica:
We have a partner organization of NHA's called Cognito that does a lot of really great work across the country with AI simulation environments and so we're starting to use that technology and a lot of our new products and NHA is coming out with a soft skills product. We don't know what the name of is going to be, but we're in that development phase right now to just really see how can we offer something to not only employers who might be training but educational institutions or just individuals who are wanting to kind of skill themselves up in that soft skills area.

Jeremy:
Yeah. And that's a really great methodology. Coming from a teaching background, you as well, you're often limited at least in a classroom setting, right, to role playing with peers or if you have the budget for it, possibly even having community members come in. Of course when that happens there's some training involved with the scenario and it can be quite costly.

Jeremy:
But I know from my experience, sometimes the role playing amongst peers can be tough because not always do, they take it as seriously as they could. And I think there's a lot of hesitation sometimes when you're in a group of people and you've kind of feel pressured to perform. So the simulation using AI as a great way to, as you put it in a low stakes environment, kind of build upon those skills. So that's really great.

Jessica:
Well, we want them to perform more naturally, right? When you're in a forced environment like role playing, you kind of tend to go with what you, the safe thing or what should be the right answer and not really being able to play off the small changes that you might have in an interaction with a patient or a coworker or something like that. So that's key.

Jessica:
The other thing, another part of it that I know this is even something that's still after 20 years of experience I struggle with, as the employers mentioned and this is part of a soft skill kind of trait as well, is 50% of them said that they want their pharm techs to improve active listening, which as we know, being the face of a pharmacy and interacting with the customers or clients or consumers as much as they do. That is hugely important to understand the needs, the concerns and the desires of the individuals that we're caring for or that we're serving.

Jeremy:
Yeah, absolutely, and again from my experience and something I always told my students was that in healthcare, in many aspects of healthcare, we're not seeing patients or customers when they're at their best. So situations can easily escalate even though both parties on both sides of the communication are well intentioned. So active listening is a big piece of that, repeating back top key thoughts that were conveyed to you, things of that nature, can really help improve communication skills. And speaking of communication skills, we dug a little bit deeper too into maybe ways that employers are implementing a training for communication skills.

Jessica:
Right, so we kind of gave them some choices on how are they up skilling their individuals or how are they giving them professional development or continuing education opportunities. And most of them said they're through traditional CEs, so through a publisher or an industry publication or things like that. Online training, of course, just from the easibility and the time constraints that we have, is a key one that they do. And then another one that I was super happy to see is one-on-one mentorship. So someone within the organization making a connection to personally try and move that person forward within an organization or role or develop them in a way in which they have their career aspirations, so.

Jeremy:
Sure. And I imagine observation in the employer's setting has to be something that someone who wants to up skill or improve their skills and communication, listening to the pharmacist counsel patients, listening to other pharmacy technicians and how they converse with patients and things of that nature. A lot can be picked up just through observing listening as an outsider.

Jessica:
Got it. So I know we've mentioned in this episode specifically talking about a specific gap that we have seen in training of pharmacy technicians and we certainly don't want to put a spotlight on a negative touch. So one other piece of data that we got from Access around the training and preparedness of pharmacy technicians as they enter the workforce was that 76% of them said that they were prepared or ready to enter the workforce.

Jessica:
So even though we do have a couple of areas that were identified for future growth, it's awesome to know that the individuals out there that are taking ownership in preparing the next generation of pharmacy technicians are really doing a great job. And that the employers that are hiring them feel very strongly that they're coming out able to perform in their particular roles. So that was one additional piece of data that we got from this particular research.

Jeremy:
And that really should provide some confidence to employers and outsiders out there around the certification process, because a lot of lay persons do not understand how involved the process is to develop a national certification exam that's accredited, such as EXCPT. But it's a testament to that process and the industry experts from all settings that come in and contribute to that process, making sure they're getting it right in terms of the topics covered and at what depth for an entry level technician.

Jessica:
Absolutely. We know certification not only provides value to the individual who's earning it, but also the employer they're working for, but most importantly the patients that they're caring for. And more specifically in the pharmacy technicians space, because they are a little more regulated than other allied health professions, in the employers that we surveyed this year, they did say that 92% of them or their institutions encourage their employees to have or obtain professional certification.

Jessica:
So I think that is going to, helps prove the credibility and the value that certification brings, especially in this particular industry when we're talking about needing to improve the standard of care, improving patient and medication safety. It's key.

Jeremy:
Yeah, definitely, and it's good to know that so many states now are requiring certification to practice. Maybe not initially, but after training, they may require a certification. But surprisingly, there's a few states that don't require certification. So it's encouraging seeing that even in those circumstances, in those states that don't require that employers are still advocating for their technicians to get certified.

Jessica:
Right. We see that number still dwindling, which is good. And I think that just goes to compliment just the shift and the momentum that we're seeing in this particular profession. So pharmacy technicians that the job growth is around 12%, which is higher than the national average of other job growth. The other thing is they're continuing to be, to hold greater value within the organization. They're growing at twice the rate that pharmacists are.

Jessica:
So in an industry or profession where the need is growing and the pharmacist pool is not, I think that's really something to consider as we look at how do we advocate, how do we train this group of individuals moving forward, because they are going to play a more vital role in this particular setting.

Jeremy:
Absolutely, and not just in their traditional duties of a pharmacy technician, but we have to kind of bring them along for the ride that pharmacists are going on, which is increasing direct patient care services and getting into more clinical consultations requiring clinical judgment. So more and more states then are allowing what used to be not permissible tasks, such as product verification by technicians and not limiting that to an institutional setting, but including community pharmacy settings, taking new prescriptions over the phone.

Jeremy:
Even in some states working in central, not in central processing, but working offsite to process prescriptions and even telepharmacy, especially in rural or medically underserved communities. Telepharmacy is really an area that's taking off too in our, in our industry.

Jessica:
Right, I think we're seeing certification as the baseline for those advanced duties. We always like to do a news story and we have a couple of those that we could share in relation to this in kind of proving not only the research that we found from Access regarding pharmacy technicians, but also just the importance of soft skills.

Jessica:
Both news stories, one comes from Idaho and one comes from New Hampshire. Both that have made a lot of steps or kind of the first steps towards recognizing that next level of pharmacy technicians.

Jeremy:
Yeah. So let's definitely unpack that and get into those news stories. So first the new story from Idaho. Idaho is, as of July 1st, is now permitting pharmacy technicians who are certified and who have undergone training. They're allowing those technicians to provide consultations to patients around Naloxone use, Naloxone being a medication to reverse an opioid, opiates overdose. And so technicians after those consultations, if they deem it necessary, they are given prescriptive authority to write a prescription in essence for Naloxone and dispense.

Jessica:
That's amazing. And we know on the heels in Idaho with them being the first state to allow technicians to immunize as well. So they have really made some or necessary adjustments to their rules and regulations to allow organizations, pharmacists, employers within the state, to create their own kind of... What do I want to say, policies and procedures around what the technicians can do in their pharmacies.

Jeremy:
Right. And I've said it before, but the pharmacist that work shoulder to shoulder with these technicians day in and day out, they are really in the best position to know what their level of training is, what their competency is. And it's those pharmacists who are delegating these tasks. So again, these tasks, these advanced tasks in Idaho are often delegated to a technician by a pharmacist kind of following really the medical model with doctors and medical assistants. And so far all of the programs that have been implemented in Idaho have been hugely successful.

Jessica:
Awesome. And then some exciting news just recently out of New Hampshire as well. And I know you're getting to actually engage in this kind of event too.

Jeremy:
Yeah. So New Hampshire recently passed legislation to create another level of pharmacy technician called an advanced pharmacy technician. So they have a separate license for those individuals. So that has been passed. Now what they are doing is they are in the process of getting the necessary stakeholders together to outline exactly what that means. So what exactly are those expanded tasks that those specially licensed technicians can do that otherwise certified technicians who don't have that advanced license can't do.

Jeremy:
And I know there's also some requirements on the employer side as well. So if an employer is going to employ an advanced pharmacy technician, they are in essence forced to have in place some clinical services and direct patient care services. So this is really a direct result of getting pharmacists to be a little bit more involved in the primary health care scene and doing more consultative services, direct patient care services, and bringing technicians up at the same time so that you're still able to do all of the traditional things that you need to do behind the counter.

Jessica:
Which is a natural, I think, result of a shortage of primary care physicians, consumers wanting access to healthcare more readily available. And as we know, most people live within five minutes of their community pharmacy. And so they have a better relationship with their pharmacists than they oftentimes do with a primary care provider, especially those that are not maybe hugely dealing with multiple chronic conditions. But the everyday maintenance and routine preventative care, things like that, it is the appropriate environment for them to go and get the services that they need.

Jeremy:
Yeah, absolutely. And I can't recall the exact figures, but I do remember there was a paper that talked about the typical patients seeing their primary care provider once or twice a year. And in that same amount of time they're at their pharmacies something like 30 times or even a little more than 30 times during the year.

Jeremy:
So there's definitely a lot more opportunity for touch points and relationship building between the patient and pharmacist then maybe between the patient and the physician. And that's not insinuating anything against the patient-doctor relationship, that's just the reality of what our healthcare system is like in the United States, so.

Jessica:
Right, well hopefully we'll be able to bring additional topics and news around this as it kind of unfolds and progresses and be able to share success stories of pharmacy technicians taking on those enhanced duties and responsibilities and how it's been beneficial to the organization from not only a patient perspective but maybe a business perspective as well.

Jeremy:
Yes, definitely, and along those lines we want to hear from you, the listener, on successes that you've personally seen or have happened to you, stories around expanding scope of practice. Really anything that you would like to email us about, questions, comments, concerns, we'd love to hear from you. Our email address here at On Script is onscript@nhanow.com. So get those emails coming so that we can address those questions that may come in or talk about a story that that somebody brings to us.

Jessica:
That's right. Share with us your stories on if you've had soft skills issues at your place of employment or with your students. If you've got a great technique or exercise that you've done to help improve those skills, we'd love to hear that as well to go back to our kind of phrase of the day. And then also of course with the research that we brought you today, checkout our 2019 version of Access that can be found on our website. We have that web address as well. It is in nhanow.com/learning-leading, which is our blog. And you can see not only the 2019 Access issue but stories and research from previous years as well.

Jeremy:
And a newly added tab on that page for this very podcast. So for those of you who have stumbled upon this podcast, whether by word of mouth or quite on accidents, you can also go there and actually subscribe so that you receive all of the episodes that we will be doing as we launch them.

Jeremy:
And we'd like to wrap up by posing a question that hopefully a listener out there can provide an answer to. So what can pharm techs do to improve skills gaps, in general? What's out there, what's available? What are some methods that maybe you have done that have worked, something that an employer has implemented, just free flow of ideas. Get those ideas out there.

Jeremy:
We're really trying to engage the technician workforce, really trying to create a medium where we can discuss these issues and we can kind of feed off of one another. So please email us if you have anything to put, if you have anything to discuss in terms of those skill gaps. So what can pharmacy technicians do to improve skills gaps? Jessica, did you have anything you wanted to add?

Jessica:
Nope. Thanks, Jeremy. It's always a pleasure being able to participate in this session and I hope to be invited back for future ones.

Jeremy:
Thank you Jessica. Always a pleasure, and remember, subscribe, keep listening to the podcast. Send us your ideas, send us your thoughts, send us your questions. We may not know the answer to the meaning of life, but we could probably address a regulatory question about laws in a particular state. So send us those emails. Until next time, take care everybody.

Speaker 3:
Thanks for listening to On Script, where we cast a spotlight on pharmacy technicians, the services they provide, and to the patients they serve. So for all the spatula warriors, TPN ninjas, and lieges of levigation, this podcast is for you. Subscribe at Apple podcasts, Spotify, or go to pharmacypodcast.com.

 

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