The Wall Street Journal reports that patients in Virginia and California have a new way to get refills of their medications: an ATM-like automatic dispensing machines. From the article:
Once customers have filled an initial prescription with the pharmacist, they can register to retrieve and pay for their refills at a vending machine inside the store–even when the pharmacy counter isn’t open. Consumers order their refills in the usual way, either online or by phone. A pharmacist then fills the script and places packaged medicines in the machine. To pick up the order, consumers log on with a user name and password and swipe a credit or debit card. Their pre-wrapped package drops into the bin.
The California and Virginia pharmacy boards have cleared the way for the machines in their states, granting waivers of rules that require a pharmacist be present in order for drugs to be dispensed. And other states are considering allowing the machines.
In California, the State Board of Pharmacy has proposed a permanent rule change that could speed the spread of the technology. Between the stores that already have machines, and the ones that are considering it, “we’re getting inundated with waiver requests,” says the board’s executive officer, Patricia Harris. The state Office of Administrative Law is expected to make a decision early next year.
One of the first drug-dispensing machines, called ScriptCenter, was installed in December at a Longs Drug Stores location in Del Mar, Calif. ScriptCenters are also on their way to an Ahold Giant Food store in Reston, Va., and a Safeway Inc. Vons supermarket in Southern California. Asteres Inc., the closely held Del Mar company that developed the ScriptCenter, says it is discussing sales and leasing deals with a number of large drugstore chains around the country.
A similar, rival kiosk–the Automated Pharmacy Machine from Distributed Delivery Networks Corp. (DDN)–is being tested at White Cross Drug Store in San Diego.
Both companies recently made presentations to the Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board, which is exploring options for improving access to prescription drugs for people who live in rural areas.
The ATM-like machines are raising questions among pharmacists and state regulators who oversee prescription-drug dispensing. One worry is that patients might end up with the wrong drug. Some pharmacists also don’t like the machines because they cut out traditional face-to-face consultations with patients. The concern is that patients might be discouraged from asking pharmacists about such things as whether alcohol should be avoided with a medicine, or possible drug interactions.
Here is a screen shot of the ScriptCenter machine (shown above) by Asteres Inc.:
More at Asteres…