By Cristina Alarcon, Special to Coquitlam NOW, August 13, 2010
Next time you walk into a drugstore, you may want to ensure your prescription has been properly filled and checked by a real apothecary -- a pharmacist, that is.
And if you or your loved ones are on a complicated medication regime and technicians are doing the final check on your medicine, then perhaps you ought to be signing a consent form.
This is because the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia has decided to pursue the licensing of technicians by Dec. 31, triggering a debate among community pharmacists who fret over liability, the profession's integrity and public safety.
For years now, the pharmacy profession has been easing the technical aspect of the job, first via specialized technology, then via technical support, but never before by leaving order entry, preparation and final check of prescriptions to unsupervised, largely under-qualified personnel.
While the college claims that pharmacists will still be ensuring the appropriateness of the drugs prescribed to begin with, quality control will certainly give way to monetary gain.
If one pharmacist must oversee the appropriateness of hundreds of scrips churned out daily by an army of techs, major mishaps will undoubtedly occur.
This idea may well work in a hospital setting, where errors are quickly caught and contained. Not so out in the community where once the wrong drug goes out that door it's gone -- and so, perhaps, is the patient.
But let's face it: most people have no clue just how much care goes into filling prescriptions. From searching for drug incompatibilities to making phone calls to refusals to fill when directions are inadequate or the wrong drugs are prescribed for a given condition -- you name it, good pharmacists catch it. There are myriad prescribing errors made and caught daily. This is far from mindless work.
Yet from their ivory towers academics believe the technical and cognitive aspects of this work can be separated -- imagine a chef who cannot cook, a plumber who cannot use a pump -- while drug store chain owners greedily wait to cash in on the techs' much-lower wages.
The regulation of pharmacy technicians will ultimately result in the creation of a new health-care professional and new registrant of the College of Pharmacists of BC.
Regulated pharmacy technicians will essentially take over the technical functions of the pharmacists' job, and pharmacists will be sitting back sipping margaritas by their pools, waiting for a call from their lawyers over the next casualty.
No really, the idea is to free up the pharmacist for consultation on disease management and drug care, but for a hefty, never-before-seen fee. Thus the most readily accessible health-care professional will be available no more, and your drug reviews and queries will be charged speedily to your Master Card or Visa.
Largely taken over by bureaucrats, academics and drug store chain owners, the College of Pharmacists of BC is giving in to their vested conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, the college board is conveniently silencing those who oppose their agenda by claiming that all must speak with "one voice."
Most recently, input was seemingly sought from the public on proposed bylaw changes that would create this new technical profession. Yet board member Bev Harris (a Coquitlam pharmacist) was reprimanded for speaking in a public forum to point out the problematic draft changes. And so it appears the consultation process was merely a sham. Fruitful discussion was never really the aim.
Over 500 community pharmacists have petitioned the college to hold off on bylaw changes that would give technicians the authority to take over their dispensing functions after a mere eight months of training. Technician certification, rather than licensing, is what pharmacists would like to see.
And it's not that pharmacists want to go back to all that counting and licking and sticking. Trained technicians are already helping greatly with that and much more.
While providing appropriate and timely services, pharmacists want to be sure that no errors are made along any step of the way, and that what your label says you're getting is really what's in the bottle.
A wrong drug or dosage may not be life threatening when you are young and healthy, but it may be lethal if dispensed to your 80-year-old mother or to your two-year-old son.
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Cristina Alarcon is a Vancouver pharmacist.
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