Let's face it: There isn't a pharmacist in practice that wants to make an error. Yet sadly, despite all the error-prevention methodologies in place, errors do occur. Unfortunately, they sometimes result in tragic outcomes that are often reported in the consumer press. I'm not saying that such errors shouldn't be made public, but I sometimes question the motive for running such stories. The obvious answer is to boost ratings. But I wonder if the media realize the damage they are doing by sensationalizing a relatively small number of errors compared to the millions of accurate prescriptions filled each day. These stories undermine the excellent and error-free image of hundreds of thousands of pharmacists.

Perhaps you caught a segment on ABC's 20/20 program some weeks back. It was on an undercover operation that exposed prescription errors in a small group of chain drugstores around the country. The story zeroed in on one allegedly untrained technician as the source of one tragic error.

The reporter interviewed a high school–aged chain-store pharmacy technician who made a typing error and dispensed 10 times the normal dose of Coumadin to a stage II breast cancer patient. As a result, the patient had a stroke and was forced to stop her chemotherapy and subsequently died.

While it is obvious that the prescription label should have been double-checked by a pharmacist, the overall take-away message of the story was the portrayal of a typical pharmacy technician as an untrained high school kid. I viewed it as a general condemnation of the 200,000-plus dedicated, certified pharmacy technicians nationwide who are valued resources to pharmacists and consumers.

I can personally attest to the value of pharmacy technicians from the days I owned and operated two retail drugstores. Even before there was a formal certification process, I made sure my technicians were well trained before handling medications or typing prescription labels. After that training period, my technicians became some of my most trusted professionals and an integral part of our pharmacy team. They knew that every prescription was to be checked by one of our pharmacists and that any questions concerning a written prescription must be checked with the doctor.

I strongly believe that pharmacy technicians should be certified before being hired. I recently spoke with Mike Johnston, Chairman and CEO of the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA), to get his take on ABC's show. As expected, he was terribly upset by the broadcast because he too felt it shed an unfair light on the tens of thousands of certified pharmacy technicians. "Hopefully, it will serve as a wake-up call for the industry," said Johnston, a certified pharmacy technician himself. "NPTA believes that individuals should be required to complete a standardized education/training program, pass a validated competency-based exam, and be registered with the State Board of Pharmacy, in order to practice as a pharmacy technician."

Johnston confirmed something I already knew: "According to our research, pharmacy technicians are involved with the input, preparation, and/or filling of more than 96% of the prescriptions dispensed in community pharmacies."

As pharmacists continue to take on expanded roles as medication consultants, they must rely on technicians to maintain the high quality of health care we've all come to expect from our profession, and that is something every pharmacist and consumer should strongly embrace.

Harold E. Cohen, R. Ph.