During my years working as a pharmacy technician I’ve developed several habits on how I like to do things. This is a brief list of some of those habits. These hacks and tips not only make your job easier but they also help you provide better patient care. If you have some useful tips, please share them in the comments section below.
Keep a Pair of Hobby Tweezers in Your Pocket
Anyone working in the pharmaceutical sector needs to understand how desiccant plays an important role in ensuring medicines are not affected by mildew, mold, rust, micro-organisms, and any form of moisture. The presence of dampness will not only spoil medication, but it can also potentially change the physical and chemical makeup of the product.
Unfortunately, desiccant canisters or capsules can be a pain to remove. Many bottle structures make it somewhat frustrating and nearly impossible to remove them. To assist in removing a desiccant from a bottle, try using a pair of hobby tweezers. Be sure and get the ones with the bent end; the straight ones don’t get the job done nearly as well as the bent ones.
Keep Insurance Cards on File
As a pharmacy technician, one of the many hats you will wear is to act on behalf of the patient. When it comes to Medicaid and its complex system of pharmaceutical benefits, many patients have a difficult time understanding their benefits and the various types of coverage they have. It’s your job to help them understand their coverages, but you must know what insurance they have.
Most times, when a new customer requests a prescription to be filled, you will ask the customer to provide his/her benefit membership or identification card. For future reference, keep a copy of the card for each patient on file. This is beneficial when a client returns to have a prescription filled and forgets his or her card. You can simply ask for the plan name and an identification number and then you can bill the script. When filing the patient’s original card, be sure to remove any protected health information.
Always Write Expiration Date on Bottles
A large part of your job responsibility as a pharmacy technician is going to entail the management of inventory. The technician must ensure that adequate supplies and medications are available at all times to meet the needs of patients. Just as important as having supplies and medications on hand, is ensuring that outdated medications are appropriately identified and returned or disposed of according to your pharmacy’s policy and procedures. Each pharmacy will vary in how outdated products are processed and disposed of.
As soon as a new bottle of medication is opened, write the expiration date on the medication where X’s are normally placed to avoid accidentally dispensing drugs that aren’t outdated. If your state board requires the X’s, use a blank label sticker to write the expiration date and place it on the medication bottle. This helps prevent the expired medication from making its way into the hands of the patient and helps maintain the safety and effectiveness of products in inventory.
Create Pill Counting Policies
Counting medication is a key responsibility of a pharmacy technician; this is why ample practice is provided in both the classroom and externship when taking advantage of a formal education to become a pharmacy tech. While many pharmacies use a variety of inventorying systems to keep things running smoothly and ensure items are in stock at all times, you will no doubt find yourself counting medication at some point. By keeping a running total of the CII drug that remains in a bottle, you can eliminate the conversation of “We don’t have enough medication in stock to fill the prescription.” This conversation often takes place after the patient has waited for 30 minutes or longer, which can be extremely frustrating. It may even cause the patient to switch pharmacies altogether.
To avoid this type of problem, you should create a pill counting policy that has your staff alert the pharmacist when medications reach a certain point. For example, any time a bottle reaches a certain count, such as 100 pills, this is a good indication to write the name of the medicine on a piece of paper and keep it posted by the drop-off window. This way, when a patient drops off a prescription, the person taking the prescription can alert the patient as to whether there may or may not be a sufficient number of pills to fill the prescription. This allows the patient to know whether to wait around or call back the next day.
Leave a Number
With the role of a pharmacist being more patient-care focused, pharmacy technicians play an important role in preparing and dispensing medication, which gives a pharmacist more time for patient consultations. As you progress in your career, you will likely watch other pharmacy technicians come in under you. There’s a good chance you will be tasked with training them. Since you want the pharmacist to maintain his or her focus on patient consultations, you should leave your number with the new pharmacy tech when you aren’t there. This way, the new employee can call you for any job-related questions. This makes the training process easier on everyone and it ensures the pharmacist can focus on the person who matters most — the patient.
Make the Most of Mornings
Mornings are the perfect time to fill prescriptions that have been sent in overnight. Once calls from the doctor offices start coming in, though, things are likely to get very hectic. Pharmacy technicians must focus and be aware of prescription prioritization while being able to multitask. Loading medications that are needed earlier in the day, rather than those due later, is part of prioritizing. Mornings tend to be slower compared to the evening time and they provide a great opportunity for technicians to go above and beyond in performing tasks that assist with maintaining an efficient workflow throughout the day. You’ll particularly want to focus on patients who have multiple prescriptions to be filled as this allows you to get the bigger orders out of the way before things start getting busy.
The longer you work at a specific pharmacy, the better you’ll get at identifying which patients have large orders. You can create a cheat sheet with names on it so that you’ll know when so-and-so drops off a prescription, we need to fill it quickly because it’s likely going to be a time-consuming task. You can even use a calendar to mark these when these people have their prescriptions filled, which allows you to schedule an extra staff member for those days to ensure you are able to maintain an efficient workflow.
Don’t Make Patients Wait
An important part of your job as a pharmacy technician is to serve patients and lower operating costs by filling prescriptions in an efficient, timely manner.
No one likes to wait, and this is especially true when someone is sick.
No one likes to wait when they have a car full of out of control children, either.
No one likes to wait when they have somewhere else they need to be.
The point is, don’t make people wait on getting their prescriptions filled. When a patient calls in a refill, always say it will be at least an hour before it’s ready. Even if your pharmacy is at a complete standstill, tell them it will be an hour. Great technicians have to be team players and cannot have tunnel vision. While focusing on what is right in front of you, be aware of the patient standing at the window or counter. Be mindful at all times of the importance of efficiency in regards to both pharmacy workflow and customer service. You and the pharmacist are in full control of how streamlined and efficient your workflow is. By being aware of your surroundings at all times, you can cut down wait times by boosting productivity.
Removing PHI on Bottles
Protected health information, PHI, must be removed from return-to-stock labels and there are multiple ways to accomplish this. According to PDCHealthcare.com, pharmacy techs can use a black permanent marker to black out PHI on prescription bottles. With this method, though, you risk not covering all PHI. You also run the risk of the marker smearing. This method is time-consuming, which is why you should consider using a stamp to obscure the PHI.
You can also place a label that is made specifically to hide PHI information over the information. Another type of label to consider is a self-shred label. You apply a self-shred label and when you’re ready to get rid of it, you simply peel off the top portion. It automatically shreds itself along with the PHI.
Sharpen Your Abbreviation and Math Skills
Learning abbreviations can make typing up prescriptions much easier. As long as semicolons separate the abbreviations, the system should recognize them. Your most common abbreviations will be QD/once daily, BID/twice daily, TID/three times daily, QHS/at bedtime and Q (AM/PM)/morning and night. In addition, sharpening your math skills can be helpful when typing prescriptions for eye drops, nasal sprays, inhalers and so forth.
When filling prescriptions, concentrate on filling prescriptions. Don’t concern yourself with answering the telephone mid-count. If you feel you need to stay busy while being responsible for answering the telephone, there are other things to do that will be far less of a safety issue, such as putting away medication bottles. It cannot be expressed enough how important it is to be extremely focused when filling a prescription. Not only do you need to make sure you are able to count the pills correctly, but you must make sure you are putting the filled prescriptions in the right bag. A simple mistake could cost a patient his or her life. Just imagine getting a phone call that a patient has been hospitalized because you put the wrong prescription in his bottle or bag. Not only will you feel horrible, but this could likely end your career as a pharmacy tech.
Multi-Dose Vial Expirations
Depending on the number of days in a month, you can subtract either two or three days from the current date to figure out the multi-dose vial expiration for 28 days.
Separating medication into groups of five on a tray will make the double counting process faster. When counting large quantities, keep a running total so you don’t lose count. If you get lucky and the script calls for the same quantity as what’s in the bottle, slap a label on the bottle and then move on to the next script. This only applies, though, if the bottle has not been opened. If the bottle has been opened, you will need to pour out all pills and make sure there is enough to fill the entire prescription.
To save time and to keep from having to go back and forth, use baskets to separate drugs that need to go back on the shelf. For example, a blue basket can be used for fast movers and a black basket for non-fast movers. After you are finished counting out pills for a prescription, you can write the expiration on the bottle for non-fast movers and this makes it a little easier when time to return expired medications.
When customers drop off scripts, always check to make sure it is time to refill the medication before they drive away. If the medication is out of stock, let the customer know you will check other nearby locations if they are willing to travel to another pharmacy to pick it up. To avoid customers returning to pick up scripts that were dropped off and not yet ready, ask them if they would like to receive a text when their script is ready for pick up.
Beginning of Shift
At the start of your shift, tackle the easy to fill prescriptions first. Easy to fill prescriptions are your basic prescriptions, such as birth controls, inhalers, and other medications that do not require counting and mixing. It also includes any medication that comes in the stock bottle. You can also look at the queue and find any patients who are refilling the same medications and do them one after the other to save time.
Know Your Pharmacy
Not only should pharmacy technicians know the medications behind the counter, but great technicians know information about over the counter (OTC) meds as well. During slow times, study and learn the availability of your pharmacy’s OTC medications. Knowing the dosage forms available and the location in the pharmacy can help you be of assistance during busier times, meaning you won’t have to leave your workstation to go looking for a requested medication.
As you’re getting more familiar with the medications that your pharmacy provides, you need to keep yourself up to date on the ones that require refrigeration. Did you know some medicines can only be left out of the refrigerator for no longer than two hours? This is a huge piece of information that you or the pharmacist will need to share with a patient when he or she picks up the prescription. Take for example a patient picks a prescription for Picato, which is a gel. You must tell the patient if this medicine is left in an environment where the temperature is 87°F or above for more than two hours, it then becomes no good and should be properly disposed of.
Create a Verification Checklist
It’s important to get in the habit of running all prescriptions through a verification checklist before handing them over to the patient. This applies whether it’s a new prescription or not. No matter what, you must always look at the patient name and birth date when filling a prescription. It’s not uncommon for pharmacy techs to try and take a shortcut when looking up patient information. Instead of typing in birth date and name, they will simply use the patient name.
A simple Google search of your own name will reveal just how common names are. There’s a good chance that almost every patient in your system has a name that is the same or close to the same as another patient. This is why your verification checklist should always include checking and filling prescriptions according to both name and birth date.
Checking for Wrong Medication
There are times during the day when you’re going to be so busy that you will think checking medicine bottles one last time before handing them to the patient simply isn’t feasible. This is a huge mistake. Every time you give a patient his or her medication, make sure to open the bottle, shake the pills around a bit and see if there are any pills in the bottle that don’t belong. Just remember, when you check out a patient at the cash register, you’re the one who is signing off on that specific medication. If the patient receives the wrong medication, it’s going to fall back on your shoulders.
Learn more about How to Screen Prescriptions for Accuracy and Completeness.
You’re going to learn a ton of job hacks for a pharmacy technician through hands-on training and work. This is not a job for someone who isn’t willing to pay close attention to tiny details. Remember, patients’ lives are in your hands, and the very medicine you are giving them very well could save their lives. Going to school to earn a formal certification or license as a pharmacy tech is an excellent way to refine your skill set and become the best pharmacy tech you can be.