Proposed Laws Increasing Ratio of Pharmacy Technicians to Pharmacists Could Adversely Impact Patient Safety

Mail_order_pharmacy_dispensers.jpgPharmacies often rely on a team of medical professionals to meet the demands of customers. These teams consist of pharmacists, who must meet educational and licensing requirements in all U.S. states and the District of Columbia; and pharmacy technicians, who are not always subject to such strict credentialing requirements. Some states set a maximum ratio of pharmacists to pharmacy technicians, while others simply require that the pharmacist have adequate support from staff and technology to perform their professional duties. Pending legislation that would increase the number of technicians that can work under a pharmacist has raised concerns about patient safety.

To obtain a pharmacy license, an individual must obtain a degree from an accredited pharmacy school, pass several examinations, and maintain continuing education requirements. Many states do not require as many credentials to work as a pharmacy technician. Maryland requires a person to have a high school diploma or equivalent, complete a 160-hour training program or obtain certification from a national pharmacy organization, and complete annual continuing education. Supervision of pharmacy technicians by licensed pharmacists is critically important to patient safety.

According to a report by Tampa’s WFTS on pending legislation in Florida, errors occur in an estimated 0.09 percent of all prescriptions filled in the United States. While this seems like a small number, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates, based on data from 2011, that doctors write more than 59 million prescriptions per year in Maryland alone. That means that more than 53,100 pharmacy errors may occur per year in this state. Most of these errors do not cause any harm, but injuries from pharmacy misfills can be severe.

State law requires pharmacists to supervise pharmacy technicians, and to take ultimate responsibility for their decisions. Seventeen states, including Maryland, and the District of Columbia do not set a specific ratio for pharmacists and technicians. Maryland requires pharmacies to facilitate the “free and complete exercise of professional pharmaceutical judgment or skill,” MD Health Occ. Code § 12-403(b)(7), and provide enough “personnel, automation, and technology [to allow the pharmacist] to perform competently the functions of a licensed pharmacist as required by law,” id. at § 12-403(b)(15).

Eight states, including Virginia, allow up to four pharmacy technicians to work under one pharmacist. Other states mandate a maximum ratio from 1-to-1 to 3-to-1. A bill currently awaiting action in the Florida state Senate would increase the allowable technician-to-pharmacist ratio from 3-to-1 to 6-to-1. The state House of Representatives passed a similar bill in 2013. Supporters of the bill say that it will free up pharmacists to spend more time with individual patients. Critics say that it will increase pharmacists’ supervisory responsibilities, requiring them to spend more time checking technicians’ work and possibly increasing the incidence of medication errors. The Florida Pharmacy Association opposes the bill, while the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy merely notes the concerns of its critics.

The pharmacy error injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent the rights of people in Maryland who have been injured incorrectly prescribed, dispensed, or administered medications. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Considers Bill Potentially Impacting Patient Safety, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, May 13, 2013
Serious Safety Concerns Regarding Compounding Pharmacies Reveal Recurring Bacterial Outbreaks, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, February 27, 2013
Court Rejects State Effort to Obtain Patient Data In Pharmacy Error Investigation, Pharmacy Error Injury Lawyer Blog, June 14, 2012
Photo credit: By National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (http://www.flickr.com/photos/niosh/8744518530/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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