Pharmacy technician signs order forms as a pharmacist

On the Docket

The expansion of pharmacist professional activities into clinical care roles has created opportunities for pharmacy technicians to perform nonclinical functions that support their supervising pharmacists. One such technician function is the clerical role of ordering pharmaceutical products. A recent case from Minnesota describes how a pharmacy technician overstepped her boundaries in ordering “free trial” products, resulting in termination of the technician’s employment and her disqualification from unemployment benefits.


Background


The pharmacy technician worked at a hospital where she was assigned the responsibilities of “pharmacy purchasing agent.” Her duties included “submitting orders to vendors and wholesalers and completing the necessary forms to replenish the pharmacy’s inventory.”


On five occasions over the course of 7 months, the technician filled out an order form to initiate a free trial program with a pharmaceutical manufacturer so that the hospital would receive prescription drugs for its patients. The drugs were for the hospital’s use in patient care and not for the technician’s personal use. The technician signed her name on the “Pharmacist Signature” line above a statement that read, “I certify that I am a licensed pharmacist eligible to receive and dispense this product.” 


The hospital discovered that the technician was “signing as a pharmacist” and immediately discharged her for “knowingly falsifying or altering records/documents or other acts of material dishonesty.” The technician’s application for unemployment benefits was denied after a judge determined that she was discharged for “employment misconduct.” From this ruling, the technician appealed.


Rationale


The appellate court first noted that employment misconduct is defined as “intentional, negligent, or indifferent conduct that displays clearly: (1) a serious violation of the standards of behavior the employer has the right to reasonably expect of the employee; or (2) a substantial lack of concern for the employment.” 


The court concluded that the hospital’s policy “reasonably prohibits its pharmacy technicians from signing forms as a pharmacist,” and that the technician’s “signing on the pharmacist-signature line and otherwise declaring herself to be a registered pharmacist constitutes a dishonest act that violated the policy.”


In upholding the denial of unemployment benefits based on employment misconduct, the court stated that a violation of the law and administrative rules is not necessary; “it is enough for our purposes that she violated the hospital’s reasonable policy.”


Discussion


This case serves as a warning to pharmacy technicians that their expanding role may not yet be fully reflected in documents that traditionally have been executed by pharmacists. The necessity of a pharmacist’s signature in the care of patients and in the dispensing of medications is easily justifiable. Technicians should not sign for a pharmacist under such circumstances. 


Yet, as a general matter, whether a pharmacist’s signature is necessary for the acquisition of pharmaceutical products is less clear. Pharmacy technicians have largely taken over the role of product acquisition. Nevertheless, a form that specifies that the signatory is a pharmacist must be signed only by a pharmacist. The consequences for a pharmacy technician who signs such a form can be severe.


Of particular significance is the court’s observation that a legal finding of “employment misconduct” can be based on hospital policy rather than laws and rules. This conclusion serves as a challenge for all pharmacy departments to ensure that their policies reflect the reality of expanded pharmacy technician roles.



Based on: Banks v Regions Hospital, 2015 Minn.App. LEXIS 1027 (November 9, 2015)