Health care: The pharmacist-to-technician ratio

A pharmacist checks the inventory. (Photo: Tyler Olson)

For many Californians, a visit to their local pharmacy is their most frequent touch point with the health care system. In fact, pharmacists are among the most trusted professionals in the medical field.

And over the last decade, as the complexity and rising costs of health care have created enormous demand for practical solutions, our state has been forward thinking in explicitly expanding the role of the pharmacist, empowering them to provide additional health care services, including immunizations, travel vaccines, and prescriptions for birth control.

California’s pharmacy technician-to-pharmacist ratio policy trails behind the rest of the nation and is the narrowest in the U.S.

Consequently, pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help Californians with their health care needs.

However, throughout our state, these valuable pharmacists are being vastly underutilized. While we have taken steps to maximize the role of pharmacists, we have not facilitated a model to realize this potential.

Fortunately, this year we have the opportunity to do just that.

While there is no shortage of other equally important bills currently working their way through the California Legislature, it’s time to pass AB 1589, a proposal intended to review our state’s pharmacy technician-to-pharmacist ratio and create more new pharmacy jobs. AB 1589, which unanimously passed out of the Assembly Business & Professions Committee, has the potential to positively impact nearly every community and neighborhood in California by creating new jobs to match the demand.

With this legislation, we can fully take advantage of the expertise and years of training and education of our pharmacists. They could better serve patients, ensuring they are receiving the most safe, effective therapy, if they had more than one pharmacy technician assisting them.

Technicians are critical to a well-run pharmacy, and they have the capacity to take on additional duties. Pharmacists are certainly more than capable of supervising more than one technician. However, our outdated pharmacy technician-to-pharmacist ratio results in pharmacists engaged only in dispensing medications or filling out paperwork and an inability to focus on patient care and counseling.

California’s pharmacy technician-to-pharmacist ratio policy trails behind the rest of the nation and is the narrowest in the U.S. By putting such a low cap on the number of technicians we can hire, we are hindering job growth and access to pharmacists.

Just a few years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that the number of pharmacy technician jobs would rise by 9 percent over the course of a decade – a faster growth average than many other occupations. California should use this opportunity to catch up to the rest of the nation and meet the needs of our communities.

At its core, AB 1589 represents the nuts and bolts of what our elected officials are supposed to do: look out for the well-being of Californians and create new jobs. From rural to urban, Fresno to Los Angeles, AB 1589 would improve the health and wellbeing of communities up and down the state.

As big-ticket and hotly debated issues like the transportation bill or climate change grab Sacramento headlines, it’s easy for us to forget that somewhat less visible issues often have the most widespread positive impact. The legislature would do well to take advantage of AB 1589.

Ed’s Note: B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, dean of the University of California San Francisco School of Pharmacy. 

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