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Learn to Do the Right Thing

Kate Traynor

At the end of the day ask yourself, "Did I do anything today that would make me not be able to sleep tonight?" advises Cheri Smith, CPhT, coordinator of the pharmacy technology program at El Paso Community College in Texas.

It’s crucial for technicians, who are "fast and furiously becoming professionals," to do their job well, says Smith. This means technicians need to be aware of ethical considerations as well as legal responsibilities that go with the job.

According to Smith, technicians should know that "ethics relates to how they decide to approach a specific problem. It goes beyond just the right and wrong of a problem—it incorporates what they’re willing to stand up for."

During a typical day, says Smith, pharmacy technicians may deal with patients who don’t use their medication appropriately. Smith says that technicians, who are not in a position to counsel patients, "may feel conflicted as to how much information" to give these patients.

In community pharmacies, Smith notes, technicians may be asked to sell clean syringes or needles for illegal drug use. And in any workplace, co-workers and even supervisors may do things a technician believes is wrong.

When problems arise, Smith says, "the first person you should approach with an ethical dilemma is…a pharmacist," because pharmacists have the same ethical concerns as technicians. Smith adds that pharmacists should serve as mentors to technicians and teach them about ethical issues, which are more of a concern as technicians take on greater job responsibilities.

Although books and classes may discuss ethics, pharmacists should help technicians work through the issues that occur in daily practice. "When you don’t address [ethics] in the workplace and you’re not mentored in the workplace…mistakes can happen," says Smith. She adds that, as technicians assume more of a dispensing role, the "importance of standing by their ethical values is so much more than ever before, because they will be held responsible for any errors."

Credentialing of technicians is an important part of raising awareness of ethical issues, believes Smith. "It makes [technicians] realize how important it is for them to do their job well. And it does raise their awareness at to what is their job and what are they required to know…They need to know the federal laws" governing technicians’ responsibilities.

Doing the right thing may become harder as technological advances erode barriers that protect privacy.

"Patient confidentiality is a very big issue," says Smith. In addition to using internal computer networks, some pharmacies now have Internet-based systems that give patients access to their personal medical information over the Web. But technicians need to remember that the information is still confidential, says Smith.

Technicians "need to be very careful when individuals call about any prescription…or information on a patient," adds Smith.

Pharmacy technicians, she says, are an important part of the health care environment. "They don’t just work with pharmacy personnel—they work with nurses, they work with physicians, they work with third parties." Training technicians to deal with ethical issues, says Smith, helps "promote the idea of appropriate ethics and problem-solving in the whole health occupations realm."