Assisted living facilities have many people in many roles. Each role typically requires some form of formal training or licensing. Nurses and doctors tend to have the most education in the facility regarding direct patient care. Administrators are often certified in business or management. Staff members who directly assist patients with their medical needs are typically RNs. Nurse practitioners or trained health care aides are also found in assisted living facilities. Housekeeping staff who do cooking and cleaning also frequently receive training, given their daily interaction with residents. One of the lesser-known positions in an assisted living facility, and one which can have the most impact, is the role of medical technicians.

Who Are Medical Technicians

Medical technicians (also known as med techs or medication aides) do slightly different jobs based on the facility in which they work. Overall, though, their job is to dispense medications to residents who need them. This is typically done with some oversight by a licensed nurse, though some anecdotal evidence suggests that such oversight is lax in some facilities. Med techs generally have a high school diploma. They also have some experience or training in providing direct patient care. Most must also pass a standardized exam. Pearson, a company which administers such tests, offers a way to train online that describes the role of a med tech: "administering prescribed drugs... and completing other delegated nursing tasks allowed by state law." That leaves very little or very much to the imagination, depending on the state and the facility.

How They Are Trained

As stated above, medical technicians generally do not receive much individual training. They do often pass a standardized exam for which they can prepare in their own time while working elsewhere or in a facility. Being a medical technician is not considered a highly skilled position; at least the pay scale does not reflect it. Some facilities only offer med techs around eight dollars an hour, although some offer significantly more. Yet experience with science, chemistry, or health and anatomy are pluses with potential employers. Such knowledge helps med techs understand why and how certain medications work and how to note signs of medication errors.

Since specific regulations exist by state and not nationally, it is not helpful here to break them down by local regulations. For family members, it is important to inquire as to how much training a medical technician has. Each facility has it's own guidelines as far as education and experience requirements.

What They Do

A med tech's job is straightforward: he or she must deliver medication in the appropriate amounts at the appropriate times to the appropriate people. This may seem easy, and for some people it is, but it has high stakes. In the United States, over a million people experience medication mistakes. Delivering the wrong medication, failing to deliver that medication, or doing so too late or early can have serious consequences for seniors, especially those recovering from surgery or with sensitive chronic conditions like diabetes. It also requires a genuine attitude of caring and friendliness toward residents, who will see and depend upon these people every day to help them remain healthy. In this way, both attention to detail and a passion for patient care are vital to med techs' work.

Lesser-known Functions of a Med Tech

Med techs might procure, prepare, and send biological samples (such as blood or urine) for medical testing. This is not extremely common in assisted living facilities. Most facilities do not offer complete medical care which would prompt such testing. Yet it is common enough that performing such tasks may require med techs to have additional training. It also means that med techs who perform these activities need to have even more interpersonal skills and medical knowledge.

Med techs frequently report to or work under the supervision of a licensed nurse. This means that each aspect of their daily work (especially identifying and sorting medications) is supervised. It is then signed off on by a licensed and experienced expert. This brings more medical training to the process. Unfortunately, not all facilities follow this practice. This typically means more errors. In some cases, to also means high employee turnover, since the job becomes extremely stressful.

Overall, med techs are a way to save money. They help avoid over-stretching the nursing staff. These techs also offer an additional person to form relationships with residents. The medical technician's job is challenging and often thankless, as with any aspect of caregiving. It may also be highly rewarding.

Family members who are concerned about the qualifications of medical technicians or who have more questions about what a med tech does at a given facility should contact administrative and nursing staff. They should also feel free to visit the facility to check for compliance with regulations and policies.

Sources

Rosenfeld, J. (May 21, 2009). Medication aides in nursing homes: A push to save money or improve patient care? Long-term Living. Available at http://www.ltlmagazine.com/blogs/jrosenfeld/medication-aides-nursing-homes-push-save-money-or-improve-patient-care. Retrieved September 5, 2016.

Learn.org. What Is a Med Tech? Available at http://learn.org/articles/What_is_a_Med_Tech.html. Retrieved September 5, 2016.

Whitenton, L. and Walker, M. (March 15, 2013). Medication Aide Certification Exam Cram: The Roles and Responsibilities of the Medication Aide. Pearson IT Certification. Available at http://www.pearsonitcertification.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2018195. Retrieved September 5, 2016.

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