By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire
Convenience is one of the keynotes of vending machines. Wherever, whenever, the customer wants something, it’s there at the press of a few buttons. Instant gratification. Little or no waiting. Especially if the machines replace something that normally requires standing in line while waiting for other people to be served.
One place where many of us spend a great deal of waiting time is the pharmacy. Prescriptions cannot be dispensed without care. But now there are ways of spending that time usefully. One branch of Sainsbury’s in England has a new prescription vending machine on trial.
Customer Roy Swift appreciated the experience. He told the BBC, "The first time I used it, it was a little bit unfamiliar. But after I got used to it, it was very easy." He now uses it regularly, dropping off a repeat prescription when he arrives then collecting it when he finishes shopping.
As "the machines will be available only alongside the in-store pharmacy service, it is possible to conduct the whole process without face-to-face contact." The BBC reports, "repeat prescribing accounts for 80 percent of prescription items." Concerns have already been expressed by physicians including the chairman of the British Medical Association GP Committee who see the potential for harm by dispensing drugs that patients have never used before through vending units without some interaction with the pharmacy.
A different type of machine, designed to help patients get their medication out of hours or when they live in remote locations, will go on trial at hospitals this winter. With this variety, pharmacist and patient can see one another and talk via videolink. Cameras photograph the prescription, sending an image to the pharmacist’s computer for checking. This, plus a conversation about the patient’s medical history and identification and payment requests before dispensing drugs stored in the vending machine will hopefully alleviate GPs’ concerns.
Discussion Questions: Do vending machines for prescription drugs make sense for retail pharmacy? What protocols would need to be in place to assure the safety of such sales?