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Pharmacy Technician Untangles Knots in the Supply Chain

Aug 31, 2018

This article is part of a series featuring ASHP’s pharmacy technician members and their valuable contributions to the profession. Check out ASHP’s Pharmacy Technician Forum for more information about efforts to advance the pharmacy technician workforce, as well as ways for pharmacy technicians to become more involved in ASHP.

 

AS A PHARMACY TECHNICIAN WHO WORKS AS A  SUPPLY CHAIN CONSULTANT for McKesson Pharmacy Optimization, Cindy Jeter, CPh.T., solves problems. She uses 20 years of pharmacy expertise, her Lean Six Sigma training, and specialized interviewing techniques to help hospital pharmacies across the country optimize workflow, reduce drug expense, and maintain optimal medication inventory levels.

 

Cindy Jeter, CPh.T.

Super Sleuth

On one assignment, Jeter was asked to use her supply chain knowledge to solve a mystery at a large teaching hospital in Texas. More than half of the IV bags prepared in the hospital’s pharmacy were being sent back to the pharmacy at the end of the day. “This meant that roughly 400 bags of IV solution were unused, resulting in thousands of dollars’ worth of medication being thrown in the trash every day,” explained Jeter. “In addition, pharmacy technicians spent four to five hours every day updating the computer system to make sure patients weren’t being charged for unused IV medication.”

After conducting an in-depth analysis, she identified one major cause, observing that when patients were moved to a different area of the hospital, their IV medications weren’t moving with them. The medication was being reordered once the patient was on the new floor and the IV medications on the old floor were then returned to the pharmacy. With more than 250 intensive care unit beds, the number of transfers among floors each day was substantial.

Once Jeter identified the problem and the causes, pharmacy leadership revised their processes and reduced IV bag returns to the pharmacy by 91%. “Consequently, they saved a lot of money, and staff morale increased because technicians didn’t have to spend so much time at the computer updating patient charges,” said Jeter. The pharmacy staff appreciated that I did the investigative work and removed the problem from their plates so they could concentrate on patient care.”

 

Why Pharmacy?

The satisfaction that comes with solving problems is one of the reasons why Jeter went into pharmacy. Jeter, who resides in Springdale, Ark., has a bachelor’s degree in general science from West Texas A&M University. She landed a job as a pharmacy technician at a community hospital pharmacy in 1998. “I didn’t know anything about pharmacy,” she recalled “But they were willing to teach me and invest time in my development for a six-month trial period.” She passed the National Pharmacy Technician Certification exam and, with her aptitude for business, she found her niche in supply chain pharmacy.

Reflecting upon her career accomplishments, Jeter is most proud of winning an innovation award for a McKesson competition in October 2017. The award will fund an online training course for pharmacy buyers, inventory coordinators and supply chain. It is comprised of courses in key areas that are pertinent to pharmacy purchasing such as inventory management, drug shortages, purchasing analytics, emergency preparedness, and pharmacy regulations. “There is a lack of formal training for this vital staff position,” she said. “The world of pharmacy purchasing has increased in complexity over the last decade and requires more skills than before to navigate the challenges associated with pharmacy purchasing.”

 

Inventory Control

In addition to solving supply chain mysteries, Jeter finds fulfillment in helping pharmacy purchasers with inventory management. “In a hospital pharmacy, it’s imperative that you have needed medications in stock,” she said. “You also need to be prepared to treat many patients at the same time. This differs from retail pharmacies, which don’t have to be equipped with products for emergency situations such as a mass shooting or traffic accidents.”

By helping hospital pharmacies control inventory costs, Jeter believes she saves pharmacy jobs. She explained that there are generally three expenses in a hospital pharmacy: medications, staff compensation, and automation expenses. When hospitals are struggling financially, they either have to cut drug costs or employees. “It’s rewarding to help customers more efficiently manage inventory so they can maintain a full staff,” she said.

Jeter is also passionate about being an advocate for pharmacy purchasers. She noted that purchasers have a difficult job trying to manage drug shortages and provide for patient needs. “It takes a lot of dedicated time and effort to keep the hospital pharmacy supplied with the right drugs at the right time,” Jeter said. “Pharmacy purchasers do not always receive training or professional development opportunities.”

She added that being a purchaser is a complex, complicated, and demanding job. Purchasers have tremendous responsibility in providing for patients and do not have the option of simply being out of a medication or a product. Bringing awareness to the position is critical.

 

Advanced Opportunities

With pharmacists taking on more direct patient care roles, there are more advanced opportunities for pharmacy technicians than ever before. Examples include being a supply chain consultant like Jeter, a pharmacy purchaser, a data analyst, a business manager, or a quality assurance specialist.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there will be a 12% job growth rate for pharmacy technicians between now and 2026. “It’s an exciting time for pharmacy technicians to find their niche,” Jeter said. Her best advice for technicians is to be an advocate for yourself, make a plan to reach your goals, and let your manager know what you’d like to achieve.

 

ASHP Endeavors

Jeter, an ASHP member since 2003, finds the organization’s education and networking opportunities invaluable. “Being able to present to my peers about projects I have worked on has helped me increase my leadership skills,” she said.

From 2010 to 2014, Jeter served on the Section Advisory Group on Pharmacy Support Services. As chairwoman of the group from 2011 to 2012, she advocated for the development of new opportunities for pharmacy technicians. She is excited about ASHP’s Pharmacy Technician Forum, which developed from these discussions, and the future of pharmacy technicians as integral members of ASHP.

More recently, Jeter served from 2015 to 2017 on the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board Task Force for Advanced Technician Certification, which is working to advance opportunities for technicians to become certified in expanded roles.

“There has never been a more exciting time to be a pharmacy technician and involved in ASHP,” Jeter concluded. “There are practically endless ways technicians can help patients and provide important care.”

By Karen Appold

 

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