Mechanized Medication

Discussion
Aug 20, 2010
Bernice Hurst

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?

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9 Comments on "Mechanized Medication"


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Paula Rosenblum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

This type of vending machine has actually been around in the US for more than 5 years. I remember getting a briefing from a manufacturer some years back.

It sounds logical, but hasn’t caught on. I’m sure there are legal ramifications that have held back adoption. Can’t say what they are, but I am quite sure this has been shopped around for a long time. I think there was a pilot at a major grocer, but the name escapes me.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

“Blasphemy” says the Pharmacist.

“Eureka” says the Pharmacy Chain Operator.

“Thank Goodness” says the Patient.

We do a lot of work with pharmacy chains so I can appreciate both the value and the conflict that this vending machine operation would bring to the table. Pharmacists play (should play) a key role in patient care by providing exceptional counseling to their patients. However, the reality of the new ‘labour models’ in most pharmacies (less pharmacist hours, more technician hours) indicates the focus more on efficiency than counseling. The reality is that refills can easily be handled by vending machines. This would alleviate the pressure on pharmacy staff (and payroll costs) for mundane and routine Rxs. Customers will be better served through reduced wait times. In the end, everyone wins … except the closed-minded pharmacist who thinks his/her job is being taken over by a machine.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 8 months ago
Some might remember the time before Automatic Deposit and Cash Machines. Thirty-five years ago, I remember standing in line at a Citicorp Bank in Manhattan on a Friday at noon with 30 people in front of me, in order to deposit a paycheck and get some cash. When the first cash machine was introduced to the bank, people were still standing in line a couple of weeks later. The branch manager was ‘teaching’ us about the ‘convenience’, ‘service’,’savings’ factors. Convenience, price, service, location, or any number of other reasons that a consumer shops drug stores (or leaves them for a competitor) comes down to the fact that in a consumer-centric world, the customer has a CHOICE that they and they alone control. And, they are going to exercise that control. Having a convenient, service-oriented CHOICE of having a drug store associate help us, or taking care of business ourselves will be a benefit to store and consumer alike. If you’re not sure this has legs or not, check yourself: Do you use cash machines, print… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Innovation like this could help both the customer and the drug retailer if it can make the pharmacist more efficient. Dispensing drugs is a very labor intensive process, so any efficiency may help to control some of the cost.

Janet Dorenkott
Guest
Janet Dorenkott
10 years 8 months ago

The customer they interviewed, Roy Swift, explains that now he just drops off the prescription, goes shopping and picks it up on the way out. Isn’t that what most of us do today? I know I go to my drug store, drop off my prescription and pick it up on my way out. One of the stores even calls your name when it’s done. I’m not sure how they do it in Europe, but I don’t see this as being a big time saver.

Also, the way insurance works in the states has got to be different than they way they deal with it in a socialized country. Personally, I have routine prescriptions delivered to my house.

Also, if they think vending machines won’t have lines, I say, go visit a Red Box some evening. I don’t see the value and realistically, I don’t think it will take off in the states.

Peg North
Guest
Peg North
10 years 8 months ago

Whatever retailers elect to do with this and other consumer facing technologies, all directions in the US need to be in Spanish and English.

W. Frank Dell II
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

This is an interesting approach to a repetitive transaction. This works well for maintenance Rx, but only in a limited degree for acute Rx.

There is a limit as to the number of drugs that can be loaded into a machine. The mail processing houses are using automation to fill prescriptions. Dosage and count is reasonable standard. The processing house can pre-fill for the vending machine. Even some acute Rx prescriptions are fairly standard.

The concept has potential to fill prescriptions 24/7 without labor cost. The conclusion–for a large number of repeat prescriptions, there is improved customer service, albeit impersonal service.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Medication from a vending style machine. Very innovative and creative even if we are not the first to have it. I can see pluses and minuses. The big pluses are not having to wait for the Pharmacist to be free to speak with you, and being able to get the Rx after the pharmacy is closed.
The big minus is we are a country that has issues getting meds to treat serious illnesses such as cancer that are readily available in other countries. So why would the Government approve the use of something like this that would simplify our lives?

Dave Wendland
Guest
10 years 8 months ago

Although not new technology, timing is everything. The sheer volume of prescriptions and the aging population will certainly move time-saving technology into the forefront. As long as patient safety is not sacrificed, I believe automatic dispensing and online pharmacists for counseling purposes have come of age. We already see chains in the US rolling out physician/pharmacist resources via the Internet and sophisticated robotic dispensing devices have been used behind the counter in retail pharmacies for years and within hospital settings even longer. It is my belief that the pharmacist will become even more vital and relevant if the physical aspect of dispensing drugs becomes more robustly automated.

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