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In this episode of OnScript with NHA, Jeremy Sasser and Jessica Langley speak to Dr. Ken Thai. Dr. Thai is the current president of the California Pharmacist’s Association (CPhA), and CEO of 986 Pharmacy in California. As the largest state pharmacy association in the US, CPhA is committed to advocating for the entire pharmacy profession, not just pharmacists. Host the annual Western Pharmacy Exchange (WPE) conference, CPhA has partnered with NHA to provide education sessions tailored to the pharmacy technician workforce.

Throughout this episode, Dr. Thai shares insights into current challenges in California pharmacy practice, and how technicians are making an impact on solving them. We also discuss the importance of advancing technician practice and creating career ladders for technicians. Dr. Thai also discusses how his company, 986 Pharmacy, empowers its technicians to take on novel and advanced roles. Lastly, we provide a preview of what pharmacy technicians attending WPE can expect.

If you are a technician planning to attend WPE in Anaheim, CA this year, April 16-19, you can use coupon code “NHAPod” at checkout to receive $40 off your registration just for being a listener of On Script. Jeremy and Jessica hope to see you there!

NHA is proud to sponsor three awards at WPE. If you would like to nominate yourself or a peer for Pharmacy Technician of the year, Pharmacy Technician Educator of the year, OR Pharmacy Technician Employer of the year, please submit your nominations by March 20, 2020. To nominate someone, visit the NHA California Pharmacy Technician Recognition Program page and complete the nomination form and view rules and required materials to submit.

Read the full transcript

Jeremy:
Pharmacy Podcast Nation. You are listening to ON-Script powered by NHA, the only podcast on the Pharmacy Podcast Network dedicated to the pharmacy technician workforce. I'm super excited today to have with me Jessica Langley. She is the executive director of education and advocacy here at NHA. She is a voice that anybody who's listened to the podcast will be familiar with and we always love having her with us.

Jessica Langley:
Thanks Jeremy for having me. We're super excited to launch the podcast, ON-Script, here in 2020 and are going to bring you some really great episodes throughout the year, so stay tuned.

Jeremy:
It's going to be fun. 2020 is going to be a good year for us for sure. Today we are also excited to have with us by phone Dr Ken Thai. Dr Thai is the current president of the California Pharmacists Association and he's with us today to talk a little bit about what's going on at the Western Pharmacy Exchange, which is the expo and meeting that is done annually, that California Pharmacists Association puts on, really bringing together pharmacy practitioners across all settings, pharmacy technicians into one spot on the Western part of the United States. We're really excited to have him to discuss what's going on at this year's meeting. Dr Thai, thank you so much for joining us and welcome to the ON-Script Podcast.

Dr Ken Thai:
No, no, thank you. Thank you both for giving me an opportunity to be on your podcast. I'm very excited.

Jessica Langley:
Now, Dr Thai, as we know, we have mentioned in other podcasts and are always doing things to promote NHA and CPhA. We have a wonderful working relationship and partnership, which is why we are also equally excited about WPE and some of the features that we are offering this year. We would love to dive in and talk a little bit about WPE and how it's incorporating the pharmacy industry this year. Can you tell me just a little bit more about how CPhA is evolving since it's a new year? It's the new roaring twenties, is what I like to call it That should be exciting. How is CPhA evolving in 2020 to support the entire California pharmacy industry? Any notes that you might want to specifically call out that are changing within the association?

Dr Ken Thai:
Well, actually, there I love the roaring twenties. That's great reference and appropriately so. Of course, with the launch of the new decade, there's been honestly a lot of change at CPhA and that begins from the top, where we just brought on our new CEO, Susan Bernia and we're very excited to have her join the team and help us be the charge. Of course, we're very grateful for great leadership from our past CEO, Jon Roth, who's been with us for over 10 years and has resigned to move on to other opportunities. We wish him well, but can't wait until Susan takes on her reign in this new decade to help lead CPhA. That was one of the big things that has occurred.

Dr Ken Thai:
We've also worked on quite a bit of new initiatives to propel the profession forward. That involves, actually, a whole new value proposition that we put forward for our members and specifically pharmacy technician members, to increase the value that CPhA can provide for our technician members. That includes everything, just from making sure that we're very cautious about recognizing them within our profession, providing opportunities for continuing education. That goes right into what we're going to do at Western Pharmacy Exchange, even reduction in membership rates, to encourage members to check us out and to see what we can do to further their careers and provide a platform for them to become more engaged in the profession as a whole.

Jessica Langley:
That is really exciting. I know that was one thing when our two organizations really started collaborating with one another that we said, we really wanted to go after this particular point together about how do we get technicians involved more in their state level associations? How do we get them more access to education? Or even just thinking about their current position and where they might go as a career as a technician and start thinking about it that way. I think some of the changes we've made at WPE will help with that. Let's talk a little bit about how we are supporting pharmacy technicians, both from the association level, you mentioned a couple of them in terms of price reductions for membership costs, but what opportunities do they have at WPE?

Dr Ken Thai:
Well, first of all, thank you so much. NHA has really brought forth this revitalization of efforts to really reach out to our technicians and we engage them, maybe that's the best way to put it, to see exactly, what are they looking for? It really starts from that whole aspect of communication. Again, I'm very thankful on behalf the organization for this partnership that we forged together with CPhA. It really made us be focused and say, "Hey, we're not doing enough." And especially in regards to our technician members. They're very valuable parts of the community.

Dr Ken Thai:
We can't do what we do as pharmacists without the support of the technicians, the clerks and the whole entire staff. Right? We're definitely not a one-man show. Technicians have played such an integral part of what we do, that it's only fair that as a profession that overseas everything that happens in pharmacy for the most part and being one of the largest statement organizations in the country, that we are very conscientious about how to make them feel, our technician members and make them feel at home within the organization.

Dr Ken Thai:
That includes, for example, you mentioned WPE would just support a full tech track, which is really just an education program that specifically is for technicians, how to advance, how to move forward in the profession. For some, the integration is a lifelong career that they really enjoy and love. For some, it's just another stepping stone towards other goals such as, maybe going into pharmacy school or becoming a pharmacist or going into business, becoming a pharmacy owner. There's just so many different aspects of that. We just want to make sure that as an organization, that we support that and working alongside with you guys, it's made that so much easier because now we have a platform and a strong partner that we can engage to have those conversations.

Dr Ken Thai:
Of course, this is not all in isolation and we really had an actual strategic group that we work with, all the leadership within our tradition, our special interest group, to ask them, what do you want? How can we serve as that resource to that partner, that makes you want to be active, active with CPhA and active with the profession? I think that feedback has been valuable in terms of just allowing us to now know how to proceed in little things. I don't think we need to just completely revamp the program, but just little tweaks, and little additional emails, or additional programs or different types of opportunities that we can afford as an organization. I think that goes a long way.

Jessica Langley:
Yeah. You brought up the fact that, something they're always wanting is, and what we've heard feedback is, when they're out there looking for new information or ways to gain insights and education in their space, they're typically lumped in with pharmacists and the continuing education or the professional development activities that they have to choose from, are the same as pharmacists are getting. Why not think a little more outside of the box? Right? And recognize that they perform at a different level alongside those pharmacists, and what can we do to help them? I think we did a great job this year in coming up with some of the topics that are going to be available for technicians at WPE. I know one of them is going to be given by one of CPhA's cohorts and is, I think, a co-president of the Pharm tech special interest group, Paul Sabatini.

Jessica Langley:
He's going to talk about the experiences that technicians have in an interdisciplinary environment. They're having to communicate and deal with multiple providers, not only in the pharmacy, but with the doctors, the health systems, the ambulatory care centers that they're receiving prescriptions from and things like that. I think that'll be a really great session for them as well. I think Paul has a great background to be able to deliver that content.

Dr Ken Thai:
Oh, I can't read. I can't read enough. Paul has been such a vocal, as well as, just an overall inspiration to the technician community and we're so grateful to have him in as a member of CPhA. Definitely, he was one of those leaders that we engaged with to come up with this new value proposition to present to our technician members. I'm so excited to hear that he has a program. I'm in lesson 10 myself, just to see what types of insights he can provide. Again, we're a team. Team members, which our technicians are a very valuable member of our team, they have a lot to offer in terms of aroud their pharmacy to better take care of our patients and to be better operationally. There are just so many different aspects.

Dr Ken Thai:
On a personal level, some of my strongest staff members, who're in the corporate team and to be very frank, a lot of them are technicians, that once upon a time, worked at the store level and basically showcased their abilities and now they're taking on so much larger roles as managers, and supervisors and some of them actually really want to be my partners in my own business, opening up pharmacies and whatnot. I'm very proud to say that my own personal technician that has worked with me for over 10 years now, he was actually the pharmacy technician of the year last year. I can't tell you how appreciative I am of everything that technicians do for us as a profession.

Jessica Langley:
Yeah. I think you've hit that on the head and I'm going along with that. We want them to think of themselves as being able to advance into those higher level roles, especially in supervision and management. We have a couple of really incredible researchers that are going to be speaking at WPE as part of the tech track as well. One session is going to be around, how do they elevate themselves from a leadership and management perspective?

Jessica Langley:
Then the second session is actually one that we really wanted to tie to current events. We know that the opioid crisis is really top of mind in the industry and so NHA is actually sponsoring some research on this topic and we are going to have a couple of the researchers that are assigned to this project to be there to talk about, what can pharmacy technicians do to help against the opioid crisis? What role do they play within a pharmacy? And hopefully be able to share some of their insights that they've gathered thus far along the journey of completing this research.

Jessica Langley:
Right there are three great sessions that we'll have available. Then, something that we started last year was, we always like to finish the day with a round table. We get a panel of industry leaders in the room and allow technicians and other stakeholders to just ask them about what's going on, what are the hottest topics, what can technicians do for themselves and for the pharmacies to, as you mentioned, really put the patients at the center of everything that we do to care for them in a better way than we have before.

Dr Ken Thai:
Oh absolutely. Just that you're making me excited. I can't wait for our WPE and, of course, this new WPE track. I think, I'm with enetry's involvement. It's just taking it to another level. I feel that all the technicians out there that hopefully had a chance to check out our dopey last year and, of course, might be interested in attending this year, I strongly, strongly encourage you to really take advantage of this. I don't think many organizations put such an emphasis on the importance of technicians and how they can serve as this just huge value for our patients as well as our practices and our team in the fact that these programs present an opportunity for them to showcase or learn about some of the technician leaders out there and what they're doing to advance themselves and put themselves in a position to go into higher roles or garner higher pay. These are all very important messages that we need to send out there. Honestly, I'm excited. I can't wait to check out some of these programs myself.

Jessica Langley:
Now, you also mentioned that your pharmacy technician that works in your organization was recognized as the WPE or CPhA pharmacy technician of the year. Let's talk a little bit how this is an additional opportunity outside of the tech track that technicians can take part in and be recognized for their great work. Outside of just the pharmacy technician of the year, we also want to recognize individuals or organizations that support them on both the educational and employer side of it.

Jessica Langley:
We actually have three categories for technicians to be nominated for, one of those being pharm tech of the year, which I believe those nominations have closed. We do still have nominations open for the other two, so for a pharm tech educator of the year and a pharm tech employer of the year. I know both of our organizations are actively promoting that right now via email and social. Check out both of our websites, both the CPhA and WPE specific website and NHA's website and social media platforms for links about how you can nominate individuals for that because we certainly want to recognize everyone who plays a part in supporting technicians.

Dr Ken Thai:
Well thank you. Again, I can't thank you enough for honestly just highlighting how important it is. Of course, we're talking about technicians, but I think just pharm as a whole, mentors in pharmacy and employers that really take care of the team and put them in positions to succeed and constantly inspire them to want to do more and go above and beyond where they're at in life. I think these are all great stories and I think they definitely deserve our recognition and hopefully it highlights the importance of those folks out there that take extra time, effort and energy to spend with their technicians, for example, to encourage them, to seek higher goals in life and to do even bigger and better things within the healthcare community and within the pharmacy. I think that's awesome. I can't wait to see what great nominees we have and personally congratulate them on all the good work involving supporting our technician.

Jessica Langley:
Yeah. The winners will be announced during an awards luncheon on Saturday at WPE, so also a great opportunity. I will never forget last year, being able to present those awards and to get personal with those individuals, to see them bring their family members to this event and to celebrate alongside of them, their accomplishments. It was just really amazing, and touching and it makes what I do even better and I know you feel the same way.

Jessica Langley:
Let's switch gears just a little bit and let's talk a little bit to your California stakeholders, so your members, or other pharmacists or technicians listening in California that maybe want to learn more about CPhA or just the pharmacy environment in the state right now. I know there are, I shouldn't even say are there. Each state has its own unique challenges in the pharmacy space right now, but can you talk a little bit about what are some of California's specific challenges in the settings and then with that, because we are technician-focused in this particular episode, how or if technicians can have an impact in that?

Dr Ken Thai:
Yeah, absolutely. I don't know if this is necessarily unique to California. I do know that these are challenges that we've seen throughout the country. As a matter of fact, yesterday, I was in Texas and talking to some of the pharmacists out there an it seems like these are, in their own little ways, slightly different, but the core remains the same. That is that, pharmacists are still working very hard to put us in a position where we get reimbursed, not necessarily for some of the more of counting or dispensing work, but more towards the clinical reimbursement side and clinical reimbursements and payments for the services that we render. I think the term provider status was something that was accomplished a few years ago and there was a great win, a very landmark legislative win for us to be recognized amongst the healthcare industry as a provider and then being able to hopefully build for services.

Dr Ken Thai:
Now, unfortunately, after five years, that has happened, but it's been slow and we're obviously not getting paid at the level that's comparable with members of the hospital to mean getting paid for clinical services and many services we still don't get recognized and get paid for. Right? That's definitely something that has been a huge push for us as an organization on the advocacy side. Also, we all know that the industry itself has also been under a lot of pressure. Community pharmacists probably represent 70%, 60%, 70% of the pharmacists community and the reimbursement rates in that setting has been, honestly, been dropping quite significantly over the past five to 10 years. That's created obviously a little bit of a crunch in terms of various issues that have now become much broader in its scope, including workplace conditions and employee pharmacists, now, they don't feel that they know they're provided with the proper support in terms of excellent staff, which, of course, includes pharmacy technicians, and clerks and and whatnot.

Dr Ken Thai:
These are all areas where I think that we're very much cognizant about within California, but I think it's much larger than that. I think it's definitely national issues that are being highlighted right now. I think technicians, I think they can do obviously a lot of help in regards to, at least, the second part of that problem, which is, how do we provide the support? Right? I think better training with our technicians and allowing them to expand in some of the different duties that they can perform to help pharmacists, those are areas that, I think, two missions can plan vertebral role to help ease some of the workload or provide additional assistance as a very core member of the team within our pharmacy. It's something I think to that effect.

Jessica Langley:
Yeah. I was just actually in California a week or so ago and was there, happily, to be sharing in the discussion with the California Board of Pharmacy around the development of advanced pharmacy technician role and scope. It was good to hear from stakeholders and see where the industry is headed in that state. I don't think we got necessarily the positive movement forward that we wanted, but it's nice to see that they're really taking their time at researching and understanding the role that technicians can play, and which duties and responsibilities do fit in when they're within their scope of practice, of course, with the the right training, and responsibility level and trust from their pharmacist. Great movement in the part of California to be one of the first few states to actually look and tackle this issue, and hopefully they'll keep moving forward and I know both CPhA and NHA will be right there in the thick of those conversations as they continue.

Jeremy:
Well, and something I think about a lot, as a pharmacy technician by training that we typically don't have a lot of knowledge in, is medical billing. Reimbursement is only going to happen on the medical side, if you're billing on the medical side and billing and adjudicating pharmacy claims versus medical claims is like night and day. Pharmacy technicians are going to need to be able to step up when that happens on a large scale, hopefully it happens someday at the federal level, so that you can pull in Medicare, TRICARE, any of the government, federally funded programs, in addition to commercial plans. I think that's really going to get the ball rolling, but we're going to really need to be ready to understand medical billing and how that occurs.

Dr Ken Thai:
Oh, that's a great point, Jeremy. As matter of fact, as we know within my own personal operations, we've done a lot of cross-training of our pharmacy technicians in the medical billing aside and you're absolutely correct. That is a huge a frontier. Right? Especially with the growth of specialty pharmacies and honestly the reimbursement, a world of third party payers have become much more complex and so sometimes you don't even know if it's medical billing or you just do pharmacy billing and to refer the benefits, medical benefits. Then once you decipher that part of it, then now you have actually figured out how to go about billing. Right? Especially in the medical side, which the majority of our pharmacy community is not familiar with. I think that that type of cross-training is providing our technicians with that type of support or education will go a long way putting them in a position to be successful, working alongside in a pharmacy and the pharmacist to allow us to start venturing into those various areas of growth within the pharmacy world.

Jessica Langley:
Well, I think that brings up a great point. You guys mentioned just one specific area that technicians can be trained in. Can I wonder if you can share with me as a pharmacist by trade, part of NHA's mission is really trying to get pharmacists to think about the role that technicians play in their organizations. When it comes to that, there has to be an equal part of professional development and training in order to get them to that point. What do you think the pharmacists should consider when looking to elevate their technicians in the area of professional development and career laddering?

Dr Ken Thai:
Well, I do think that, if pharmacists are not doing so already, that they're really not doing their jobs, as a pharmacist, as a manager. Right? Of a particular setting in a pharmacy. The reality is that, everyone has a role and as the operation, as the business grows, those roles, are going to evolve. Also, depending on the particular person, staff member, whether they're a technician or an intern or a clerk or even a staff pharmacist, we have to evaluate how we can maximize each person's role within that operation. Right? I think that, for the most part, at least for me personally, comes with a lot of communication to understand, what exactly does that particular individual want to do? Right? How do they want to grow with the company? What're their aspirations in life?

Dr Ken Thai:
A lot of folks obviously look at entering the technician field. It's more of an entry level, at least the beginning. Right? Then some of them actually find joy and they love what they're doing and then they start taking it further. Then when that happens, then it's time to really start looking at, so how far can I go with this? At least, from my personal experience, I think the sky's the limit because, really, the technicians, when it comes to day-to-day operations, maybe not as much on the clinical side, they know just as much about what happens every single day in that pharmacy as anybody. That includes the pharmacist and the pharmacy managers. Right? They interact just as much if not even more, with the patients that are coming in and out of that pharmacy on a day-to-day basis.

Dr Ken Thai:
I think, once you understand what everyone's looking for and, usually, I think it's the job of the manager and the pharmacist in that particular setting to present opportunities, and visions and different ideas as to how that role could be expanded. I think once you talk with your team, you'll see that they're more than willing to share with you where they see themselves in two, three, four or five years. If they don't have maybe a more clear set of vision, then it's your job as a leader and a manager who is in that role to present them with that vision. Once you do that, it's amazing how they open up and start looking and taking their jobs much more seriously in terms of where they can advance. I've seen that personally. I say that because, again, the majority of my top staff members are technicians. I've actually seen that play itself out in firsthand.

Jessica Langley:
Yeah. I think this is a great opportunity, not only to share that message through the podcast, but the timing is wonderful and pharmacists should think about potentially even paying for their technicians to attend WPE and to get some of these professional development courses and have the ability to network across the industry. That's an easy way for them as a leader, an owner or a manager to show that they value the job that the technicians do and that they care about their future.

Dr Ken Thai:
I agree with this, but we also have the... Well. I apologize.

Jeremy:
Oh no. I was just going to say I don't think it's any surprise why we're seeing much more opportunity in career laddering in independent pharmacy practice, and hospital or institutional pharmacy practice. I'm not seeing a lot of that uptake in some of the larger retail pharmacy practices because I think, unfortunately, in a larger organization it's really a lot harder to move that needle and create a new specific job or job code for an advanced technician, but they really need to get on board with giving and empowering their pharmacy managers who are standing shoulder to shoulder with these technicians day in and day out, who they trust, who they know, not only in terms of ability, capability, but also in terms of what their technicians can do and empowering them to elevate them at the pharmacy level.

Jeremy:
I think it could be a huge win for pharmacy technicians because I was fortunate enough as a pharmacy technician behind the counter to work with a lot of pharmacists who, when I raised my hand and said I wanted to do more, they let me do more. I knew I wasn't necessarily going to get paid more. All of that was out of their control, but they trusted me to find solutions to unique problems that we had and built things out from there. Pharmacists knowing or being given the ability too at the pharmacy level, elevate the technicians, give them more to do, trust them with more to do, I think that would help a lot.

Dr Ken Thai:
Oh yeah. I can't agree enough, Jeremy. As a matter of fact, I'll take a step further. As matter of fact, one of my technicians, I actually paid for their signing up for one of these programs within CPhA, it's called the Leader of Development Institute, which is LDI. It actually allows anybody. By the way, it's not limited to pharmacists or interns or technicians, anyone within the organization CPhA can sign on and apply for it, and then can attend and be involved with that. Just it is another opportunity to put you in a situation where you think out of the box and you start understanding where you are in life and in your profession and how you can take it to the next level. Right? I think that those are the types of things that I think Jessica spoke about earlier where you're encouraging employers and whatnot to send their technicians to WPE or in my case, SOP and LDI, to continue to develop them because they could do so much more and they can serve as such an even more integral part of your operation to build, right, and to expand.

Dr Ken Thai:
If pharmacists want to expand their own duties, and opportunities and payments for these services and whatnot, the only way to do that is to be able to elevate the staff that you work with, so that they can take on some of the other duties that you're doing, to allow you to, again step up and move beyond what you're doing now. Right? AI think that that's just the normal course of evolution in terms of being able to continue to advance the profession.

Jeremy:
Yeah, and understanding how putting in the cost upfront for professional development for their staff in the long-term, is going to decrease attrition rate and thus is going to be a cost saving measure in the long run. Everything's got an upfront expense oftentimes, but when you can hang onto that technician for 10, 15 years, even five years, that cost really becomes negligible to the business versus constant turnover and going through a hiring process and training new employees.

Dr Ken Thai:
Absolutely.

Jessica Langley:
Well, and what a great [crosstalk 00:33:45] first step right that we've been talking about here. There's a couple of examples of that. First and foremost, invest in them. Invest in their membership to their state association such as CPhA. Secondly, what we've been promoting here is, send them to your annual conferences. WPE, specifically, is tailored for them. We've got that day that has content that is specific to their job, and their role and their function within the pharmacies. I know we've talked with Ken, you and your lead team, and you guys are willing to run a promo offer for individuals, whether it's pharmacists that are wanting to send their technicians or technicians themselves individually wanting to sign up for the one-day tech track, they can do that and you guys are willing to give $40 off that registration. If listeners want that, they can email us at onscriptatnhanow.com and we can provide that code to them.

Jessica Langley:
What a great way for CPhA to support technicians in that sense as well. I think that's the biggest thing in the interim is, let's see how much engagement we can get at this year's Western Pharmacy Exchange event. It's being held, as Jeremy mentioned earlier, April 16th through 19th in Lovely Anaheim. If you want to tack on a little Disney vacation there, it might be something to think about. I just love even the theme of it. We talked about the roaring twenties and I think that my past life I was in the twenties, in the 1920s because I just have this thing for this particular generation. It really fits with the theme of WPE. It's celebrating the past and designing our future, which is exactly what we've been talking about in regards to trying to advance that pharmacy technician profession forward.

Jessica Langley:
Ken, thank you so much for your time. Thanks for your support of not only this partnership with NHA and CPhA, but your support of technicians both professionally and personally through your work with the different organizations. We enjoyed your thoughts today on this episode of ON-Script.

Dr Ken Thai:
Well, thank you to you both. This is really fun and I can't wait to see everyone at the WPE. Please take advantage of this $40 discount. This is awesome. Get to go out to Disneyland and also learn something along the way and meet some new friends and hopefully look at some new opportunities. Thank you so much to the both of you for putting this on.

Jeremy:
Absolutely. Thank you for the platform. As a final reminder, don't forget the nominations for the pharmacy technician educator of the year and employer of the year are still open. You can find those links on nhanow.com, as well as the WPE. Western Pharmacy Exchange website. For a link to this podcast, as well as all of our other previous podcasts, don't forget to join or login to the NHA Blog and that can be found www.nhanow.com/learning-reading. All of our episodes can be found there. Definitely subscribe and be in the know when we launch new episodes. Thank you so much for listening and until we are on the air again, I hope everyone is having an awesome 2020 this far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Mar 23, 2020 4:41:05 PM |
  • National Healthcareer Association

Episode 8: Bringing Personal Training to the Pharmacy Technician

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