If you are exploring the possibility of pursing a career as a pharmacy assistant, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will be discussing everything you need to know about the duties and job description of a pharmacy assistant.
We will go over each and every responsibility our pharmacy assistants have so that you will have the most accurate portrayal of what a day in the life of a pharmacy assistant is like. We also interviewed many pharmacy assistants across many companies, so no matter who you choose to work for, our article provides a comprehensive outlook of what is expected of a pharmacist assistant.
What Does A Pharmacy Assistant Do?
Pharmacy assistants are essential members of the pharmacy team and play an important role in keeping the pharmacy organized and running smoothly. They work under the direct supervision of licensed pharmacists and perform a variety of tasks related to the daily operations of a pharmacy.
The responsibilities of a pharmacy assistant can vary depending on size and volume of the pharmacy, but most duties can be generalized into three main categories: customer service, medication preparation, and administrative tasks.
Customer Service Responsibilities of a Pharmacy Assistant:
Since pharmacy assistants are often the first point of contact for many patients, it is important to have a strong commitment towards providing exceptional customer service. A friendly and helpful demeanor will be essential for success in this position.
1#) Greeting patients
One important duty is to create a positive welcome experience and this starts with greeting patients and welcoming them warmly as they enter the pharmacy.
2#) Handling patient requests
Being an attentive listener is also important for pharmacy assistants, as they will often be required to take note of special requests made by patients. By documenting these requests and communicating them to the pharmacy team, it ensures that requests will be fulfilled as intended.
For example, some patients may prefer a specific brand of medication or they may request easy to open lids. These preferences should be documented on the patient’s profiles so that it is easier to reference in the future.
3#) Helping patients locate products
One of the most common interactions that a pharmacy assistant has with a patient is helping them find an item. In order to provide the best customer service, it is important to be familiar with the layout of the store and to know what products are available. Pharmacy assistants will also be expected to have a working knowledge of Canada’s National Drug Schedules, which is a tool that used to classify the different prescribing and dispensing requirement of medications.
It is important to know the most common Schedule II medications because these will be located in a specific area, known as the “Professional Services Area”. Schedule II medications can be sold by a pharmacist on a non-prescription basis, but there is no public access for the patient to self-select.
The sale of these medications must be supervised and pharmacists must provide counselling to patients that wish to purchase these products. By knowing which products are Schedule II, the pharmacy assistant can quickly help patients locate the product and request a consult from the pharmacist.
4#) Remembering not to counsel
At this point, it is worth distinguishing between providing excellent customer service and counselling. It can be difficult to tell the difference, but pharmacy assistants are not legally allowed to provide any kind of counselling. Pharmacists have the legal duty to provide counselling to patients. Therefore, an important role of the pharmacy assistant is to refer all clinical inquiries to the pharmacist in a timely manner.
Any questions about medications, medical conditions, or medical concerns should be directed to the pharmacist on duty. If a patient requires counselling, they must be referred to the pharmacist for assistant.
As a rule of thumb, pharmacy assistants are permitted to answer questions regarding the location and pricing of the product, but anything else should be directed to the pharmacist on duty.
Here is a helpful table that outlines the difference:
|Questions Pharmacy Assistants can answer||Questions only Pharmacists can answer|
|What is the price of the Tylenol?||This bottle says Acetaminophen. Is this the same as Tylenol?|
|Where is the Tylenol located?||Does this Tylenol work well for my headache?|
|Your flyer has Tylenol on sale for $9.99. Is this the Tylenol that’s on sale?||What is the dose of the Tylenol for my child?|
|What is the difference between Tylenol Arthritis and Tylenol Extra Strength|
5#) Keeping patient information confidential
Pharmacy assistants play an important role in maintaining the confidentiality of patient health information. There is a legal and ethical responsibility for pharmacy assistants to protect the privacy and security of patient health information.
In fact, one of the first forms that a newly hired pharmacy assistant will sign is a Confidentiality Undertaking Form. This is an example of a Confidentiality form that was created by the College of Pharmacists of British Columbia.
Patients will often share sensitive information that is necessary for the provision of pharmaceutical care. It is important for pharmacy assistants to remember that all patient information is strictly confidential and cannot be discussed outside of the work environment.
This information should not be discussed inside the work environment unless it is relevant to the task performed. Even so, extra precautions must be taken to ensure that the conversations are not overheard.
When communicating with patients, pharmacy assistants should be aware of any clues that the patient may want to discuss something in a more private setting.
Even if a patient appears to be very open and relaxed about sharing their medical information in a public setting, pharmacy assistants should still speak quietly to avoid being overheard.
6#) Answering phone calls
Pharmacies have high call volumes and it is a shared responsibility of the pharmacy team to answer the phone. Pharmacy assistants are usually responsible for triaging the phone calls and escalating to the pharmacist when appropriate. It is standard practice for pharmacy assistants to be able to process orders over the phone.
Patients may order their the medications in the following manner:
- Providing a RX number, for example: “Please fill RX #123456.”
- Providing the exact name of the medication they want, for example: “I want my Atorvastatin filled.”
- Providing the condition that the medication is used to treat, for example: “I want my cholesterol medication filled.”
- Providing a very broad statement, for example: “I want everything filled.”
Pharmacy assistants should be familiar with the common medication names (both generic and brand name) and what they treat in order to understand what medications are to be ordered.
7#) Supporting vaccination efforts
Many pharmacies across Canada are playing a pivotal role in providing COVID-19 vaccinations and vaccinations in general. By integrating our pharmacy assistants into our workflow, we have been able to provide a better experience for our patients. Our pharmacy assistants help check-in patients for their appointments, fill out forms if required, and help schedule vaccination appointments.
8#) Intaking Prescriptions
The prescription intake process is often the most difficult to learn because there are many steps involved. The process of filling prescriptions can be difficult for those who are new to it because they need to be familiar with how to use the pharmacy software and know how to decode common prescription abbreviations.
Depending on the employer, receiving prescriptions may make up to 0-100% of the activities in the pharmacy assistant’s shift. At London Drugs, pharmacists do 100% of the order intake. Other locations like Shoppers Drug Mart or Pharmaprix may have a designated station where one pharmacy assistant receives all the prescriptions from the intake.
This process begins with the patient dropping off a prescription at the in-take counter. The first step would be to gather patient information, such as confirming or updating the following information:
|Patient information to gather|
|Patient Identity (by viewing approved pieces of ID)|
|Patient details (Date of Birth, Address, Phone number, Weight, Medical conditions, Medications, Over-the counter medications, herbal products/supplements)|
|Medical allergies (if any, it is important to ask what caused it, what was the reaction, how severe was the reaction, and how did it resolve)|
|Any Specific preferences (Eg. safety caps, wants only 1 month of medication at a time, blister packing, etc.)|
|Medical insurance coverage details|
|Indication of medication|
After gathering all of the necessary information, we would then look to see if the prescription is actually legible. Fortunately, most prescriptions nowadays are computer generated making them easier to read. The prescriptions are then checked to make sure they meet all of the legal requirements (such as having the date, drug, strength, name of prescriber, prescriber signature, etc.) before they are processed.
The data entry process begins with using the pharmacy dispensing software and finding the file of the patient. You would then enter all the information you have gathered, such as allergies and medication insurance details. The correct drug is then selected from the database and the directions from the prescription are translated from their abbreviated form into something that patients can understand easily.
For example, “1 tab po bid” may be translated to “take 1 tablet orally by mouth twice daily”. The day supply is calculated and the prescribing doctor is selected.
The prescription can now be adjudicated and sent electronically to billing. Many pharmacy assistants find billing to be a difficult process at first since the policies of many insurance companies are different when it comes to what costs can be billed to patients. A label is then generated and the prescription can move on to the preparation station.
In summary, the list below is a condensed form of the customer service related job responsibilities of a pharmacy assistant.
- Greeting patients promptly as they enter the pharmacy
- Receiving prescriptions from patients and checking to ensure that provincial and legal requirements are met
- Refer all clinical inquiries to the pharmacist
- Communicate realistic and accurate prescription wait times to the patient
- Provide accurate information in response to customer inquiries regarding loyalty programs, store policies, prescription pricing, and more
- Information gathering of all relevant prescription information prior to filling
- Data entry of prescription information into pharmacy management software
- Third party adjudication or billing of prescriptions
- Interpreting and processing written prescriptions
- Handling prescription pick ups
Administrative Responsibilities of a Pharmacy Assistant
Pharmacy assistants are responsible for performing a variety of administrative tasks. Being able to handle these responsibilities efficiently is critical in order to keep the pharmacy running smoothly. Administrative tasks in the pharmacy can include everything from recordkeeping, inventory management, and billing and insurance processing.
Pharmacy assistants can be a big help when it comes to recordkeeping. Pharmacies are required to keep records of a prescription for a specified amount of years as defined by their respective provincial bylaws. One common task for pharmacy assistants is to sort through all the prescriptions of the day and organize them by the prescription number and file them in a folder by the date with the prescription number ranges.
For example: Oct 15/22. RX #12345 to 13345. Narcotic RX #91234 to #91235.
Each pharmacy files their prescriptions in a different way, but the main goal is to keep these folders organized so that they can be easily retrieved and auditable.
A growing number of pharmacy regulators have authorized the use of electronic recordkeeping. Pharmacies who choose to adopt this “paperless” route must scan the original prescription and the prescription hardcopy into the computer system. Pharmacy assistants usually assist with this bulk scanning process.
2#) Maintaining Inventory Control
Pharmacy assistants play a vital role in pharmacy operations by helping to maintain inventory control. They help to ensure appropriate levels of drugs and supplies are on hand at all times.
Drug shortages are becoming increasingly common in Canada, and it requires a collaborative effort to manage these shortages. Pharmacy assistants are usually the first to notice these shortages because they are often responsible for receiving the orders.
If a patient requests a drug that is not currently in stock, pharmacy assistants can help flag it for the pharmacist to order, so it can be delivered the next day. However, if the medication does not arrive as expected, there is a possibility that there is a shortage of this medication.
To stay ahead of these shortages, pharmacy assistants can regularly review the updates on the National Drug Shortage database. When an out-of-stock situation occurs, pharmacy assistants can help by calling other pharmacies to see if the medication is in stock. If the medication is not needed urgently, pharmacy assistants can check the wholesaler for updates on the availability of the medication on a daily basis.
3#) Receiving Orders
Pharmacies typically receive medication shipments from their wholesaler six days a week. These shipments usually come in a single big tote. Pharmacy assistants help receive the order by cross-checking each item in the tote with the order invoice. If there are any discrepancies, customer support will need to be contacted. If a return is needed, pharmacy assistants may also be asked to help write up the return.
After the receiving process is complete, pharmacy assistants will help put the order away into the appropriate shelves.
4#) Checking for Expired Medications
It is a standard practice for pharmacy assistants to check and pull expiring or expired medications from the all shelves on a monthly basis. Pharmacies may attach a sticker to a shortdated bottle to indicate the date of its expiration.
5#) Maintaining Pharmacy Supplies
Our pharmacy assistants perform a stock check of important pharmacy supplies on a weekly basis. If any of the items on our list are running low, we will place an order to replenish them as soon as possible. Some of the items that can be included when an order is placed are prescription label paper, ink toner, prescription vials and lids, ointment jars, needles and syringes.
6#) Maintaining Formulary Control
Pharmacies may have a pharmaceutical purchasing agreement where they are able to get better prices if they stick to a certain selection of preferred brands or generics. Compliance with the formulary should be achieved as much as possible, but there will always be some authorized exceptions. Pharmacy assistants may be asked to review the compliance report and identify any areas of improvement.
7#) Clearing the Will Call Bin
Patients may not always pick up the prescriptions that they order from a pharmacy. If a patient’s prescriptions are not picked up within a specified timeframe, usually 30 days, the pharmacy may be required to reverse the prescription and put it back into stock. Pharmacy assistants can help reduce the number of patients who do not pick up their medications by calling them and letting them know that the medication is ready. If patients still do not pick up their medications, pharmacy assistants help clear the will bins and calculate the total dollar value of all prescriptions called for accounting purposes.