Saturday, April 29, 2006

A machine fills prescriptions in hospital lobby

Is this machine the future for our profession?

When a patient gets a prescription, the ER doctor asks if they want to use the dispenser. If so, the physician sends the prescription information to the machine. The patient, who gets a voucher, goes into the lobby and types a code into the machine.

The machine automatically looks up the person’s insurance information and labels and dispenses the drugs.

The cost is no more than a retail pharmacist and there is no added fee for using the machine.
There is a telephone on the machine that allows people to talk to a pharmacist from the company that operates the system.

The machine holds 80 different medications. Most are antibiotics and pain medicine, the most common prescriptions given in the ER. There are also some over-the-counter drugs in the machine, such as Tylenol. The machine not only dispenses pills, but also soluble medicine, such as the pink amoxicillin, an antibiotic commonly used for childhood ear infections. Those medicines come in pre-packaged amounts, with a powder in one packet and sterile water in another that can be mixed. So far, the machine has dispensed an average of nearly 20 prescriptions per day.

The machines had originally garnered some criticism from the pharmacy industry, which said a pharmacist is more likely to review a patient’s past prescription use, check for interactions or problems the patient may face and give other advice. But the criticism has mostly faded as the machines proliferate. Even some pharmacies in other states use a similar machine.

The InstyMeds was invented and developed in Minnesota by Ken Rosenblum, who started the Mendota Healthcare company. The Minnesota State Board of Pharmacy gave its approval of the machines in 2001. The machines are showing up in more hospitals, particularly in rural areas.

Recently, another company, Asteres, began producing self-dispensing prescription kiosks that are beginning to show up in pharmacies and grocery stores on the West and East coasts.