By Erith Welch, B.S., CPhT, pharmacy manager, Munson Medical Center, Traverse City
The role of a pharmacy IV compounding technician is vital to every successful healthcare system. Those that choose this rewarding career field will be challenged by the demands of a fast-paced, patient oriented environment. They must possess strong math, computer and interpersonal skills and demonstrate these abilities all while exercising extreme aseptic protocols. Even though IV compounding pharmacy technicians work under the supervision of a registered pharmacist, at Munson Medical Center they must complete rigorous training. This training focus on patient safety and care along with specific processes required to meet all required IV compounding standards. All healthcare team members and patients depend on these technicians to detect and correct critical errors. The satisfaction that comes from meeting this expectation along with so many others is what makes this career in healthcare so rewarding.
Health-systems are facing severe lifesaving drug shortages. The destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in September 2017 shut down several major pharmaceutical manufacturers and exponentially increased global need and driving much of today’s global drug shortages. Products such as emergency syringes, sodium bicarbonate, carpujects, small volume normal saline bags (< 150mL), amino acids and total parenteral nutrition (TPN) components are no longer readily available. IV compounding pharmacy technicians met this challenge of shortages and brought to light the vital role technicians play on the healthcare team. IV compounding pharmacy technicians met this challenge. Now, hospital systems depend on their skill set and IV compounding expertise to adjust current processes and explore new methods to provide products in the same safe and timely manner.
Managing these major drug shortages has become the focal point to all pharmacy operations. Hospital pharmacies continue to educate and advise healthcare teams to explore alternative therapies and drug utilization to ensure resources are being used conservatively and appropriately. Major shifts in product preparation and drug utilization have created domino effects that make anticipating future drug shortages challenging. One detailed example would be the shortage of 50mL and 100mL bags of normal saline (0.9 percent NaCl). Where these products were once easily procured, IV technicians now have to batch 50mL and 100mL bags of normal saline solutions via repeater pumps or by hand, depending on available resources, to keep up with hospital demands. Batched bags of normal saline are used to prepare final patient specific products. The batching process is extremely labor intensive as managing shortened stability requires diligent stock rotation and a close eye to utilization to ensure minimal waste. This shift in preparation used by the majority of the nation’s healthcare systems has created a shortage of empty sterile IV bags which in turn affects all products prepared in empty sterile IV bags. This one example highlights the pendulum that continues to swing from one drug and supply shortage to the next due to the ever-changing demands of today’s drug shortages.
Pharmacist and pharmacy technicians work collaboratively and creatively to ensure that safe high-quality patient care stays at the center of everything they do. However, as drug shortages continue to set the tone and pace for continued changes to pharmaceutical care practices, it will become more difficult to meet demands. It is imperative that healthcare systems continue to support growth in all pharmacy-related career fields, especially the one of pharmacy technicians, as they are the cornerstone of this field’s success.