By Ken Perez, Vice President Health Policy and Government Affairs, Omnicell, Inc.
Although they are usually the first person patients see when they walk into a pharmacy, the important roles pharmacy technicians play are not well understood by the public.
How pharmacy technicians support patient care is becoming increasingly apparent as the United States experiences a widespread shortage of pharmacy technicians. Last month I met with a dozen senior pharmacists from leading hospitals and health systems around the country, and a large majority of them said they were struggling to fill enough pharmacy technicians. Similarly, a nationwide survey conducted by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) in late May found that nearly 90% of the 278 respondents in the survey said they could not find pharmacy technicians.1
What is causing the shortage? This is mainly due to externalities. The shortage of pharmacy technicians is part of the wider problem hiring entry-level professionals in all industries – many people are reluctant to return to work for a variety of reasons.
As a result, many large corporations are offering new workers unprecedented starting hourly wages. Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, recently increased its hourly wages by at least $ 1 for more than 565,000 store clerks, bringing the chain’s average hourly wage to $ 16.40.2 Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer, also recently increased its average starting wage to more than $ 18 an hour and announced it would hire 125,000 warehouse and transport workers.3 In contrast, the average hourly wage for pharmacy technicians in the United States is around $ 15.
In response to this, many pharmacies entered the wage war. More than 72% of respondents to the NCPA survey said they raise wages to attract workers, 56% offer more flexible working hours, and more than 20% provide additional benefits.4th
Will this “fighting fire with fire” strategy work for pharmacies? Unfortunately, they have limited opportunities to compete with wages in other industries. The reimbursement of costs by the payers – which are controlled by the pharmacy service managers – has been declining for years, which contributed to the closure of almost 10,000 public pharmacies between 2009 and 2015.5 In addition, the pharmacy’s average pre-tax profit margin was only 2.24% for the second quarter of this year, leaving little or no scope for wage increases.6th
Faced with the dual challenges of a possible rising wage spiral and ongoing reimbursement pressure, pharmacies need to use technology to optimize the use of existing staff. Many labor-intensive tasks can be automated, freeing up pharmaceutical technicians’ time for more patient-centered activities. Ultimately, the integration of technologies like automation, robotics and data intelligence could transform the roles of pharmacy technicians as well as pharmacists, improve the nature of their jobs and improve their career paths, which in turn could make pharmacies more successful in attracting and retaining a workforce.
- Business Insider, “According to an industry report, 4 out of 5 local pharmacies cannot find enough staff to write prescriptions and manage the till“, Accessed on October 11, 2021.
- Thomas, Lauren “,Walmart increases hourly wages by $ 1 for more than 550,000 workers ahead of the holidays“, September 2, 2021.
- Dastin, Jeffrey, “Amazon increases the average starting salary to $ 18 and hires 125,000 jobs”, September 14, 2021.
- Business insider, loc. quoted
- Knoer, Scott J., “Payment reform”, Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, March 1, 2021.
- CSIMarket.com, “Pharmacy Services and Retail Drug Store Profitability“, Accessed on October 11, 2021.
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