The 2022 Pharmacy Understaffing Epidemic

Hearing the phrase “we are short staffed” seems to be the norm these days in every profession including pharmacy. Is this truly a cause of the Coronavirus pandemic or were there signs this was the direction pharmacy was headed long before the pandemic started? “The great resignation” is currently being observed across all vocations in which employees are exiting their professional careers and there are not enough new graduates to fill in the gaps behind them. In healthcare, this is being seen across all boards – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and auxiliary staff.

Pharmacy plays a vital role in the healthcare continuum, with around 6.47 billion prescriptions being dispensed in 2021. By 2028, the US Pharmacy market is projected to jump to $861B, from $506B in 2021. Specialty pharmacy is at the core of this tremendous growth over the last few years, only leading to an increased demand for pharmacists and technicians to support the rapid growth.  Thus, massive staffing shortages affecting most of our pharmacies.

Currently, employee turnover rates in pharmacies are roughly 21%. One in 10 pharmacies (hospitals, chains, Specialty, independent) note a loss of 41% of their pharmacy technicians. In a National Community Pharmacist Association (NCPA) 2021 survey, 90% of respondents could not find enough Pharmacy Technicians to fully staff their pharmacies. This is a multi-faceted issue, with contributing factors including the pandemic, stress, workload, appreciation, pay, growth, and newer licensing & registration requirements. The repercussions of these shortages are vast, with pharmacy closures, reduction in pharmacy hours of operation, impacts on business (revenue and margins), increased medication errors leading to extra work to correct, inconvenience to the patients, as well as the impact on other staff members. Long-term understaffing can often create a serious disruption to the health and well-being of individuals as well as the entire pharmacy staff.

The classic term “burnout” is frequently used to describe the reason many pharmacists and pharmacy technicians choose to leave their jobs. The definition of burnout, as defined by Dr. Christina Maslach, “is a psychologic syndrome involving emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment.” Amongst other considerations, burnout can lead to the occurrence of medication errors and staff injuries. Higher levels of burnout were also associated with unfavorable patient outcomes, patient dissatisfaction and increased patient and family complaints. A significant relationship exists between high levels of burnout and worsening patient safety. 

In the summer of 2022, pharmacists attributed 93% of medication errors and/or patient complaints due to short staffing issues. In fact, according to the Emergency Care Research Institute’s (ECRI) 2022 annual report on the “Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns”, staffing shortages were the number one concern listed. 

So where do pharmacies go from here?

Caring for the caregiver (in this case pharmacy staff) is now a top priority. The healthcare workforce has only begun to recover from what will hopefully be one of the worst public health crises in a lifetime. Employers should keep their attention and efforts focused on employee safety, ensuring their employees feel respected and valued for the work that they do, and reinforcing the sense of purpose that brought them into health care in the first place. Concentrating on these goals can improve employee retention outcomes. It often sounds like an easier explanation than it really is. Safer work environments, flexible schedules and mental wellness programs are just a few modifications that can be implemented to start this process. Improving the overall workflow in a pharmacy can lend to a more efficient atmosphere as well. This starts with improved communication and collaboration amongst the staff to prioritize work projects and tasks leading to a decrease in “wasted” work time.

In addition to all the above solutions, implementing new forms of automation and technology will help to reduce the workloads and burdens of the entire pharmacy team. By integrating the right combination of the above solutions into any pharmacy, one is guaranteed to have an overall happier, more productive, and more efficient work environment despite the current understaffing epidemic.

Interested in learning more about AssureCare’s solutions for Pharmacy? Check them out here.

Kelly Malkamaki

Kelly Malkamaki

RPh, Senior Product Pharmacy Analyst