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Technicians Buy Into Procurement

Kate Traynor

Pharmacy technicians who specialize in buying put their problem-solving skills to work in maintaining the pharmacy’s supply of drug products.

Andrew Cordiale, CPhT, a pharmacy inventory control specialist at Glens Falls Hospital in New York, says he faces "different challenges every day." One common problem is dealing with drug product shortages.

"I have to have dig into things, make phone calls, use the Internet, look at the buying group," Cordiale says of his procurement efforts. "We have to try to see what our usage is and what alternatives we’re going to have to deal with."

Cordiale’s hospital recently had trouble obtaining Decadron, Merck and Co. Inc.’s dexamethasone sodium phosphate for injection product. "We...use a lot of that for patients who are on [cancer] chemotherapy," he says. "So we had to switch [patients] to oral Decadron." In addition, Cordiale secured a supply of dexamethasone sodium phosphate powder for use in compounding a topical preparation for iontophoresis.

Cordiale, who has specialized in purchasing for the past five years, describes the work as "exciting." But the job entails plenty of responsibility: "I’m accountable for about $9 million a year," he notes.

Lee Easterday, CPhT, director of pharmacy support projects at the Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Pharmacy in Amarillo, also calls purchasing a big responsibility. But he says it gives technicians a great opportunity to work independently.

"If you’re doing other the pharmacy," Easterday says, "you probably have a pharmacist who is periodically checking you...several times through the day." In contrast, technicians who specialize in purchasing may report to the pharmacy director once a week, or even less often.

"That director," Easterday says, "has a lot of trust that you will have the best interest of the pharmacy in mind when you go about your job."

Texas Tech uses a multicampus prime vendor purchasing program to procure drugs and medical supplies. Easterday describes the program as "going through one secure contract buys."

Before the prime vendor purchasing program started, Easterday says, different divisions of the health science center were responsible for buying their own drugs and supplies. Pricing was inconsistent, he says: "One place on campus might [purchase]...a box of gloves for $7 and across the street the other clinic…[bought] the same gloves for $15 a box."

In addition to setting up accounts that allow his colleagues to make purchases from a prime vendor, Easterday works with drug wholesalers, manufacturers, and sales representatives. "One of the things I try to do," he says, "is find ways to leverage our buying power to make it better for the school."

Easterday recently contacted a sales representative from one drug manufacturer to discuss a product that was not available through Texas Tech’s managed-care buying group. For this product, Easterday says, acute-care purchasers get good pricing. "But within managed care," he says, "we don’t." Easterday hopes his efforts will get the product added to his managed care "class of trade" at a lower price than he now gets.

Purchasing, says Cordiale, is "a specialty function that technicians are well able to do." Easterday’s advice to technicians who want to get involved in purchasing is to start by learning how orders are placed and how products are received and put on the inventory. In addition, he says, "pay attention to what your director tells you about your pharmacy’s drug budget."