The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) believes that specially trained pharmacy technicians can assume important supportive roles in pharmacy informatics. These roles include automation and technology systems management, management of projects, training and education, policy and governance, customer service, charge integrity, and reporting. Such roles require pharmacy technicians to gain expertise in information technology (IT) systems, including knowledge of interfaces, computer management techniques, problem resolution, and database maintenance. This knowledge could be acquired through specialized training or experience in a health science or allied scientific field (e.g., health informatics). With appropriate safeguards and supervision, pharmacy technician informaticists (PTIs) will manage IT processes in health-system pharmacy services, ensuring a safe and efficient medication-use process.
The National Library of Medicine defines health informatics as the “the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management and planning.”1 Health informatics is a discipline at the intersection of information science, health care, and computer science that designs and delivers information to improve clinical care, individual and public health care, and biomedical research. Health informatics optimizes the usability, acquisition, and processing of health-related information, using resources and tools that span the IT spectrum, from people to processes, from information to knowledge, and from algorithms to data. The broad definition of health informatics and the number of disciplines involved present an opportunity for the growth of subspecialties within the field. One of these subspecialties is pharmacy informatics, which has been defined as “the use and integration of data, information, knowledge, technology, and automation in the medication-use process for the purpose of improving health outcomes.”2 ASHP believes that pharmacists have the unique knowledge, expertise, and responsibility to assume a significant role in health informatics.2 A properly trained and qualified pharmacy technician may assume a supporting role in the field of informatics as well.3
The potential for health informatics to improve health outcomes has prompted the health care industry, large health care purchasers, and state and federal governments to undertake sweeping health information technology (HIT) initiatives. These initiatives have greatly increased the demand for a highly skilled HIT workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 37,700 new medical records and HIT technician jobs will be created between 2010 and 2020.4 This tremendous increase will affect organizations’ ability to recruit and retain the qualified personnel necessary for health care operations. Although not all pharmacy technicians are qualified to fill this pressing need, an emerging cadre of specialized PTIs will help fill these important roles. The purpose of this statement is to provide a preliminary description of the potential roles and responsibilities of the PTI in the evolving HIT landscape as well as the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to assume those roles and responsibilities.
Roles and Responsibilities
In general, the PTI will be a health care professional, working under the supervision of a registered pharmacist, who uses his or her knowledge to influence and adapt IT systems to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the health system. The roles of PTIs will vary, depending on the needs of the health care institution and the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the individual. A PTI specializing in the management of health-system pharmacy IT services may, for example, perform workflow assessment and optimization in clinical, administrative, educational, or research domains; adapt software controls to existing workflow; provide subject-matter expertise for new technology assessment and usability; or serve as a resource for pharmacist informaticists when mission-critical updates are needed or problems are identified. The areas of responsibility of the PTI will also vary considerably but may include automation and technology systems management, management of projects, end-user training and education, policy and governance, customer service, charge integrity, and reporting.
Automation and Technology Systems Management. With training and experience in health informatics, the PTI can serve as a knowledgeable expert for placement, configuration, monitoring, maintaining, and troubleshooting automation and technology systems and provides users and staff with consultative support. The PTI participates in assessing the functions, benefits, and constraints of technology and automation systems for drug procurement, pharmacy inventory management, prescribing medications, order processing, distribution and dispensing of medications, administering and documenting administration of medications, and effects monitoring. The PTI consults, advises, and educates staff on methods and means to make automation and technology systems more effective and efficient. The PTI’s functions include integration of information and workflow processes to achieve successful adoption and application of new technologies to support health care operations and systems.